By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
GREENVILLE — The controversy over the state’s school mask mandate has erupted in Greenville with protesters taking to the streets.
Students on Monday staged a walk-out at the middle/high school prior to a contentious board of education meeting.
The mask mandate is in effect in all schools statewide under an executive order by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
When opponents to the mandate continued to protest Tuesday with a sit-in in the school lobby, district officials decided to switch to remote learning for the rest of this week.
The district prohibited protesting on school grounds, so parents and students staged their opposition to the mandate and the district’s handling of it at the main intersection in Greenville, the corner of Routes 81 and 32.
Protests will continue as long as school instruction remains virtual, protesters said.
“Every day that our school is supposed to be in session, we will be there,” parent Amanda Calvo said following Wednesday’s protest.
District Superintendent Tammy Sutherland announced the switch to remote learning Tuesday night, calling the protests disruptive.
“A number of Greenville students have taken the opportunity over the last two days to voice their opposition to masking in schools,” Sutherland said in Tuesday’s letter. “Yesterday over 50 students exited the school in protest, and today many more students refused to wear their masks while in the school building.”
Students were given the option to complete their schoolwork in the library without wearing a mask, attend classes with a mask, or be picked up to go home. Many of them did not comply and remained in the main lobby of the school “causing a disruption to the learning of others,” Sutherland said.
“This disruption negatively impacts learning and can not be tolerated in an educational setting,” she added.
Protesters said Wednesday night that passersby were supportive. One truck driver mimicked the COVID mandate protests by truckers in Canada.
“There was a truck driver there at the intersection who backed up traffic for miles — it’s not what our intent was, but they showed us a lot of love and they were incredibly gracious in the town,” Calvo said.
The move to remote learning in grades 6-12 will continue through Friday. Students may still attend extracurricular activities and sports events if they wear a mask, according to the district. Students at Scott M. Ellis Elementary School are still on campus for in-person learning.
All schools in the district will be closed next week for President’s Day on Monday and winter recess Feb. 22-25. Schools will reopen Feb. 28.
Hochul is expected to make a decision on the statewide school mask mandate, which is in effect for all schools in New York, on March 4.