Darien schools want local control of COVID mask rules

Darien's Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue

Darien's Board of Education building at 35 Leroy Avenue

Board of Ed /

DARIEN — School officials are calling on state leaders to allow more local autonomy in developing COVID mitigation strategies, including decisions on mask mandates.

The Board of Education agreed to send a letter, penned by Superintendent Alan Addley and board Chair David Dineen, to Gov. Ned Lamont as well as the commissioners of the state Department of Public Health and Department of Education, calling on more home rule for town officials.

In a statement read prior to Tuesday’s special board meeting, Dineen said the goal is to have children back in school, in a safe environment and on a regular schedule starting Aug. 30.

"As you finalize your requirements and guidance to school districts over the next few weeks for the safe return to school,” the draft letter reads, “the Darien Board of Education respectfully requests that you delegate greater decision-making autonomy to districts and health professionals at the local level on the implementation of mitigation strategies, including whether or not our students need to wear masks.”

Lamont has granted local municipal leaders the authority to enact their own requirements for indoor masking at local businesses. Cities like Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford now plan to require everyone — regardless of vaccination status — to wear masks indoors.

However, Lamont said he was waiting to make a decision on whether to require students to wear masks when classes resume.

Darien school board members said they are hoping to gain clarity on what mitigation measures they can control. At this point, board members said they have no control over mask requirements.

In its letter, the board states having local control will allow municipal and health officials to “utilize town and county COVID-19 metrics and vaccination rates to make the decision in the best interest of their communities and, most of all, their school children.”

“The need to implement more mask wearing or other mitigation strategies should be evaluated throughout the year with local health officials in response to new COVID-19 data,” the letter stated.

Mekhala Attonito, who has two children in Hindley School, called on school officials to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that call for keeping children masked, especially faced with the COVID delta variant and rising positive tests in recent weeks.

Belinda Fang agreed, saying it’s important for students, especially younger children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, to wear masks in order to keep them in school.

However, others disagreed.

“I think the time for wearing masks is over,” Jeff Montero said, adding that the decision should be up to families and not dictated by state or federal health officials.

Clayton Erwin said he hoped the district, if given the option by the state, will allow parents to make their own decisions on mask wearing.

Greg Grambling, who was joined on the Zoom meeting by his 9-year-old daughter, Samantha, who attends Ox Ridge School, also said the decision should be left up to parents.

“One size fits all is the not the right approach,” Greg Grambling said.