Greenville switches to remote learning over mask dispute

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Unrest over the face mask mandate in the Greenville school district led to the switch to remote learning for the rest of this week for grades six through 12. Courtesy of Pexels

GREENVILLE — The Greenville Central School District announced Tuesday night the district was moving to remote learning for grades six through 12 for Wednesday through Friday of this week following unrest over the face mask mandate.

Classes will instead be held via Google Meets in an attempt to let things simmer down.

“A number of Greenville students have taken the opportunity over the last two days to voice their opposition to masking in schools,” District Superintendent Tammy Sutherland said in a letter to parents Tuesday night. “Yesterday over 50 students exited the school in protest, and today many more students refused to wear their masks while in the school building.”

On Tuesday students were given several options but many chose not to comply with the district’s requirement, Sutherland added.

“Today students were given the choice to continue their protest by completing schoolwork in the library unmasked, attend classes wearing their masks, or be picked up to go home,” according to Sutherland’s letter. “Many of these students chose not to comply with any of these options.”

Many of them remained in the school’s main lobby or wandered the halls during the school day, “causing a disruption to the learning of others,” the letter states.

“This disruption negatively impacts learning and can not be tolerated in an educational setting,” Sutherland said.

Tuesday’s student protests followed several days of unrest in the district with students and parents vehemently opposing the statewide mask mandate, which was enacted by executive order by Gov. Kathy Hochul in an attempt to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Several neighboring states have announced plans to lift their school mask mandates in March, but Hochul said the situation in New York would be re-evaluated the first week of March, after students return from winter break. She did not provide metrics for how the decision over the future of the mask mandate would be made.

The decision to switch to remote learning in the Greenville middle and high school also follows a three-hour board of education meeting Monday night at which parents voiced vehement opposition to the mask mandate and how students are being treated in the schools.

Board of education members stated at the meeting that the school district has no choice and must follow the state’s mandate or face the possible loss of $16 million in state funding and the loss of administrators’ licenses.

Sutherland reiterated that message in Tuesday night’s letter.

“The mask requirement is still in effect for schools in New York state and as such all students who attend school need to wear a mask and follow the code of conduct,” Sutherland said. “Students must also wear masks on school buses in keeping with federal transportation regulations. As public officials we must follow guidance regarding the health mandates. It is the expectation that all students will follow those mandates as well as the code of conduct. Students not following the code of conduct will face progressive discipline as outlined in the code of conduct.”

The district administration is setting up a time for families and school personnel to meet to “explore methods of advocacy.”

The letter also included a link to a state list of resources for contacting state elected officials and the governor if individuals want to voice their opposition to the mask mandate in schools.

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