Lack of quorum hobbles mask amendment

Pro- and anti-mask parents vent to the All-Island School Committee.

Edgartown School Committee member Lou Paciello came out against masks in schools. — screenshot

At a heavily attended virtual meeting of the All-Island School Committee Thursday night, lack of a quorum dashed the prospect of amending the school mask policy for Vineyard schools. Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea requested a single revision to the mask policy established last year, a revision that would, as he put it, “allow the students and staff to remove their mask when outside — when they go outside for recess, go outside for class …”

Deliberation between D’Andrea, committee chair Kate DeVane, and school committee members resulted in the understanding that a proper vote couldn’t be taken by the All-Island School Committee. Instead, it was determined, separate votes must be taken by the Edgartown School Committee, the MVRHS committee, the Oak Bluffs School Committee, Tisbury School Committee, and the Up-Island School Committee. Three out of the five committees voted to approve the revision. However, Edgartown and Oak Bluffs were unable to muster a quorum, and the change was stalled. 

Initially DeVane tried to limit committee and public discussion on the revision because she feared quorums would fall apart, as various committee members departed to address other obligations they had that evening. However, several irate parents criticized her for limiting debate, and she acquiesced to letting a more expansive group of Zoom commenters participate in the discourse. Most comments weren’t directed at the revision to the mask policy, but at the concept of a mask policy in general.

DeVane told those in the Zoom they should consider masks as not necessarily a defense specifically for their child, but as protection for their child’s classmates, teacher, or an elderly family member, for example. “It is really important to remember that it is not just all about the individual,” DeVane said. 

Kimberly Burke decried the attempt to limit debate, and told the committee members it was “nobody’s responsibility” but hers to look out for her kid’s health. “Just me,” she said, “not the school committee, not the board of health, not even my daughter’s doctor, who I love and respect.”

She went on to say, “You all need to remember only one specific fact, and that is, children have less than 1 percent chance of dying of COVID, 1 percent. The effects of wearing a mask throughout most of the day are going to be far worse than them getting COVID.”

Melanie Brown, who said she’s been a school teacher for 20 years and works with “hundreds of children,” told committee members, “Wearing masks is what is keeping kids safe. The Island did so well last year because of the policies they had in place.” Brown said she is among a body of people who are grateful for the precautions the school district has taken to ensure kids’ safety. Brown said both of her kids are under 12 years old, and can’t yet be vaccinated. “I don’t believe they would be safe without a mask policy right now on the Island,” she said.

Similarly, Rachel Wild said her son isn’t old enough to be vaccinated, and won’t be for a while. She said efforts by the district to keep kids safe are what are keeping kids safe. 

Wild said she found it “very sad” that several parents on the Zoom felt kids shouldn’t wear masks. She thought the debate should be confined to the policy revision, as opposed to the policy itself.

“I just feel like we’re in a crisis,” kindergarten teacher Debbie Grant said. “And I don’t think it’s a lot to ask. I guess I don’t think I’m doing something wrong by wearing my mask and having my students [wear a] mask.”

Erin Tilton asked if the school district will be notifying parents if their kid’s teacher is unvaccinated: “And as more and more establishments and organizations are requiring proof of vaccination, will the schools be requiring school staff to be vaccinated, so that those children who are not eligible for the vaccine are protected?”

DeVane said she thought such a disclosure was a HIPAA breach. However, DeVane noted the recent Indiana University Supreme Court decision may put the issue in flux. 

“We can’t notify people of our employee vaccination status,” D’Andrea said. D’Andrea said the district has been reviewing the subject of a vaccine mandate for staff, but hasn’t made a determination. 

“I’m a little worried that we’re celebrating the fact that kids are OK with wearing masks,” Edgartown School Committee member Lou Paciello said. “It’s not entirely true, and it’s actually sad when I think about it — that we’re normalizing the mask.”

Paciello went on to say, “For the record, I am against this mask policy 100 percent.”

Asked what the consequences were for kids who refused to wear masks, DeVane said those kids would be refused entry on buses, and D’Andrea said kids would be required to wear the mask or face discipline not unlike breaches of other building policies. 

Dr. Henry Nieder said that in the week before August 5, America had 94,000 pediatric infections. And two weeks before, he said, there were 38,000 pediatric infections: “So at present, the rate of rise of pediatric infections in the country is remarkably fast, and I think given the surge that’s taking place throughout the country and on Martha’s Vineyard, I think we can anticipate that the number of pediatric infections is going to continue to rise into the future. And I think the opening of schools will just provide more potential for that kind of infectious rise.”

Dr. Nieder said the hospitalization rate is one in 100, and the death rate is one in 1,000: “So that means of those 94,000 new infections ending August 5, that is 9.4 deaths. So there are children who are dying from this disease.”

Dr. Nieder said the rate is greater in states with lower vaccination rates. He also noted the phenomenon of “long COVID,” which he described as “a real thing” for kids: “So amongst those children who do get sick and who do get better, there will be a number, we don’t know how many as yet, who will have long-term disability. So I don’t think we should underestimate the degree of illness that can occur.”

Dr. Nieder said he thought a staff vaccine mandate “should be seriously considered.”

No votes were taken on vaccines, and no timetable was given for when the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs School Committees would take their votes on the revision.

Richie Smith, assistant superintendent of schools, said everyone is aware of the toll school closure took last year.

“We all want children back,” he said. “We’re dealing with a highly transmissible virus … and our children [under 12] are not vaccinated — even if they were, there’s so many breakthroughs that are occurring now. So we want to get all the children back in school and get to as close to a normal school day as possible.” To do that, Smith said, the kids have to be protected. “As administrators, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Smith said.


  1. Wow. Pretty sad. Just take a look at Florida and Texas. Look how many children are now being affected. Some sadly have died. 4 unvaccinated teachers have died this week in Florida. Read the news.. It’s a pandemic with a variant twist. We live on an island. Let’s continue treating it as a pandemic and not stepping on people’s rights. We’ve worked so hard and sacrificed much.

  2. What about kids who would willingly wear a mask, but their parents forbid it? Mr. Paciello, it’s not about being “okay” with something – it’s about a public health matter that transcends politics and personal beliefs.

    • Jane, there is a wonderful woman named Caitlin Doughty who has a YouTube series called “Ask A Mortician”. She is based in Los Angeles and her videos are somewhat humorous but very informative answers to people’s questions about death, dying, and funeral home industry processes. She can be serious, though—one video was deadly serious about the effect of the pandemic on our “last responders” in funeral homes and mortuaries. They are inundated with work, people’s grief, and the problem of body storage so the deceased and their families are treated with dignity. She pretty much laid it out for me with this quote: “It is not about politics, it is not about personal choice, it’s about mass death”. I have a hard time calling people who don’t realize this “human beings”.

      • Well said, Jane & Jamie.

        This touches on one of the aspects I find most illogical. Those who do not believe in COVID or who at least question how serious it is will often back this up by expressing a distrust in government and media. You don’t need faith in either to see all of the personal stories and photos being shared by funeral workers, doctors, nurses, etc. Are they all crisis actors employed by the former? Some are people who established a solid reputation long before COVID. Some are our neighbors who have come here from cities that saw the worst of it. Just talk to anyone in these professions and the truth is obvious. The trauma of coping with this situation is real and shared across many countries. Services and hospitals are still overburdened. It’s a question of math and suffering, not partisan politics.

        Locally, I also feel it’s easy to write these experiences off as something happening far away. I see that a lot, too, when I share national articles with some on the Vineyard. “Well, okay, it’s sad that pediatric hospitals in Texas are full, but MV is doing great. Why should we wear masks *here*?”

        That kind of attitude. Living on an island can give us a false sense of being separate, maybe insulated from the problems of the ‘real world’. But that’s just an illusion.

  3. Wow. I’m shocked . As a school commitee member youre mission must be to defend the welfare of all children .As a parent , one must think as their school community, not personal preference . Like peanut allergies , It may affect only one child , but the entire school takes action to prevent a life threatening anaphylactic reaction .
    In school learning definitely takes precedent over the inconvenience of mask wearing . Please follow science and health .

  4. “Devane told those in the Zoom they should consider masks as not necessarily a defense specifically for their child but as protection for their child’s classmates, teacher, or an elderly family member, for examples….It is really important to remember that it is not just all about the individual”.

    Rabid anti-vaxers are also rabid anti-maskers. It is the sui generis nature of them NOT to care a fig about anyone but themselves and the extentions of themselves: their children. You can explain until you turn blue that being a responsible member of a community means you and your children have to behave responsibly.They don’t care and never will.

    Have a gander at the dissenting parent’s, Kimberly Burke’s, very public and very proud Facebook profile picture.

    Mandated masks and mandated vaccines for all medically eligible are the only way to move forward during this deadly pandemic. Normalizing masks is a million times better than normalizing a vulgar, irresponsible selfishness that can and does kill.

    • Yes Jacqueline, super intelligent for a doctor to have that posted on Facebook openly, regardless of her personal feelings. I always thought doctors were supposed to care for and help save lives, not endanger them, and certainly not to drive potential customers away–no new golf cart for Kimberly! (BTW Jacqueline, you are my favorite comment writer on these pages.)

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