Winchester Public Schools seal
Winchester Public Schools seal

Board of Education listens to mask concerns; parent threatens legal action against the school district

WINSTED — On Tuesday, Aug. 17, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) mandated that all students and staff in-state public schools, from Kindergarten through 12th grades, be mandated to wear masks.

The mandate would last until at least September 30, but Gov. Lamont said that it is possible that the mandate would be extended depending on the Covid-19 situation in the state.

A few hours after Gov. Lamont’s mandate announcement, the Winchester Board of Education discussed at their regular meeting the mandate, along with concerns raised by parents about masks in schools. 

At the meeting, Superintendent Melony Brady-Shanley said that the school district would move forward with following Gov. Lamont’s mandate.

“The executive order mandates that everyone wears a mask regardless of vaccination status,” Superintendent Brady-Shanley said. “This is for the safety and well-being of all of our staff.”

During the past year, there were reports of various students and staff of the Winchester School District, including The Gilbert School, who were infected with Covid.

However, Brady-Shanley said that the cases did not happen within the district’s school buildings, but instead happened through community spread outside of the school district.

“We were in a very good place last year,” she told the board. “I think if families and staff want to maintain in-person education safely, these are the strategies that we have to maintain. We want to continue with in-person education because that is where students should be. For students who have difficulties wearing a mask, who have medical concerns that might impact their ability to wear masks, those families of students have plans through our nurse’s offices. They have compliance plans where we work on building their tolerance to masks.”

“If there is a parent who insists that their child cannot wear a mask, how will we deal with that?” Board Chairman Doug Pfenninger asked Superintendent Brady-Shanley.

“We will try to meet them where they are at,” she said. “If it is a situation where it’s a medical or disability-related situation, that’s different than non-compliance. Simple non-compliance because it’s ‘I don’t want to.’ The requirement is that you are in a public school environment and you have to wear a mask.”

Parent concerns

During their meeting, the board reviewed three letters concerning the mask mandate.

The first letter was written by Mellisa Patterson.

Patterson wrote a six-page letter that claims that “masks are ineffective and in many ways, they harm,” and “illegally mandating an investigational medical therapy generates liability.”

In her letter, she wrote that “This letter serves as official notice that Adam Patterson does not consent to be forced to wear a mask. I, Mellisa Patterson, as Adam Patterson’s will not fail to take the maximum action permissible under the law against your organization, and you personally.”

Meanwhile, resident Ashley Totino wrote a letter to the board in support of the mask mandate.

“It is vital we, as a community, do all that we can to protect our children,” Totino wrote. “By making sure all children wear their masks indoors in school can help us achieve just that. As a parent who opted for distance learning last year due to the risks of Covid, I find it extremely important for us parents to do our part to provide a safe environment for all children. I feel my family deserves the right to feel our child’s school environment is safe for him to return and masks can give us that peace of mind.”