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Battle lines drawn in East Greenwich of masks for students

EAST GREENWICH — The statewide debate about mask mandates for students played out in front of the School Committee here last week, with parents on each side of the issue making impassioned pleas on behalf of their children.

“Yeah, it’s uncomfortable, I hate masks. I hate wearing it, I know my kids don’t like it,” said Michael Goldberg, who has children entering kindergarten and third grade next month and supported district-wide indoor masking. “It’s a pain, no one’s happy in it. But the alternative is so much worse.”


Lisa Pomeroy, a mother of three who will have two students at the high school in September, countered: “The local data suggests it’s a very safe environment. For my own children it’s more harmful for them to wear a mask.”


With Gov. Dan McKee resisting calls to issue a statewide school mask mandate, it is falling to local school committees and superintendents to draft their own policies. East Greenwich Supt. Alexis Meyer modified a policy the committee adopted more than a year ago, calling for masks when there is “substantial or high transmission” rates of COVID, regardless of vaccination status.


“The policy contemplates changing conditions in the state,” Meyer told The Hummel Report, adding that her thinking began to change significantly about three weeks ago when there was a spike in COVID cases in town and statewide.


Meyer said that if the numbers drop, the district could revise the policy to withdraw the mask mandate. “That’s why the policy is crafted the way it is,” she said. “It allows for an off ramp. I’m hopeful we get back to that place again.”


After three hours of, at times, heated debate, the School Committee last week approved a first reading of the revised policy. It is scheduled to vote on final passage Tuesday evening.


Across Rhode Island, the same debate is playing out at meetings and online.


“We absolutely need consistency,” said Tim Ryan, lobbyist for the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association. “If districts are left to their own choice, we could have a chaotic situation with athletics and career and tech. We really want one comprehensive, cohesive policy in the state because there is tremendous pressure on our school committees and superintendents.”


Goldberg, a lawyer, and Pomeroy, a molecular biologist who has a medical degree, offer strong arguments on each side of the issue.


The night before the School Committee meeting, Pomeroy helped organize another meeting at the Greenwich Hotel titled “My Kids, My Choice: A Community Conversation.” It drew 80 to 90 people, including some members of a recently formed statewide group called Unmask Our Children.


“I think that’s been one of the frustrations, anything you put out there that doesn’t fit the narrative of everybody has to wear a mask is discounted,” Pomeroy said. “People won’t even read it.”


Pomeroy said she was also frustrated by the lack of interaction with the School Committee at the meeting on Tuesday.


“You can make a comment, it’s on the agenda, but there’s no discourse,” she said. “I think there needs to be more of a back and forth. If I share what I’m thinking and the reasoning behind my thoughts I would love to hear the reasoning — substantiated by evidence though data — that supports where they’re coming from.”


Pomeroy said effects on students’ mental health are not being adequately addressed. She said her children have had trouble breathing, gotten headaches and sinus congestion.


Goldberg was one of the 125 people watching the School Committee meeting online Tuesday evening when he heard some comments that prompted him to drive to Cole Middle School and speak in person (the School Committee alternated taking comments via Zoom and from those who attended the meeting).


“I got really upset. I was worried because [some of what people were saying] was not true,” he said. “I listen to my kids’ doctors. I just don’t view this as parental choice, or a decision that every parent could make for their kids. Because it affects my kids, it affects all the kids, it affects everyone.”


While he disagrees with it, he sees the other side of the argument:

“The vast majority of people are not coming at this from an angle of ignorance or hate. They’re fighting for their kids. They see how difficult it was for their kids last year. The parents, they want to make life easier for their kids, better for their kids.”


Meyer said parents need to consider where the district is compared to a year ago: “We need to keep our eye on the prize, these kids, their well-being, safe schools and kids in school,” she said. “It is different from last year, they don’t have to have masks outside, so it will be for less time [masked] overall.”


The Hummel Report is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to Reach Jim at

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