CONWAY — The Conway School Board’s meeting was cut short Monday after seven people who declined to adhere to the board’s mask policy entered the Professional Development Center at SAU 9. Most refused requests to put on masks, causing Chairman Joe Lentini to adjourn after 18 minutes, less than halfway through the board’s agenda.

Lentini has asked everyone to wear masks at meetings since Oct. 12.

“Those are the rules,” he said Tuesday from Memorial Hospital, where he was working as a COVID tester. “What kind of an example would we be setting for kids and staff if we tell them you have to wear a mask when you’re in the building but we don’t?”

The board had just reached item 5B on its agenda — “Principals’ and Directors’ Reports” — with Pine Tree Principal Aimee Frechette talking about a successful Trunk and Treat Halloween event, when in walked Bibbs Dutton, Rebecca Miller, Nicole Nordlund and Sharon Wilson, all of Madison; Wendy Richardson of Conway; Nella Thompson of Eaton; and Robert Chase of Bartlett, all without masks.

“Aimee, can you just hold it for one second?” Lentini said. “I’m going to recess the meeting for a moment.”

Lentini rose and approached the maskless people, most of whom had already sat down.

“There was a sign very clearly that masks are required for anybody coming in,” Lentini said, “so please comply with that unless you have a written note from a doctor stating a reason (why you are exempt from wearing a mask).”

Thompson produced a note from a physician on her cellphone.

“Anybody else? Do you have your notes or not?” Lentini asked. “If you don’t, you need to leave the meeting. Unless you have the note, you need to either put a mask on or leave the meeting.”

“We’re not near any of you,” Thompson replied.

“The policy of the school district is you need to have a mask to be in here,” Lentini responded. “Now, the options are, you either show me a note, put a mask on or I do not take the meeting out of recess.”

Wilson said she had had COVID and had built up antibodies to ward off the virus.

Nordlund said the Governor Wentworth School Board puts people in a different room at its meetings.

“So what policy is that Joe,” Chase asked, “BE Made Up."

Lentini said signs are on doors to all schools in the Conway School District indicating masks are required.

“Can you show us how you have jurisdiction (to implement masks)?” asked Nordlund.

“We’re not going to play this game,” Lentini answered. “You know very clearly when you walk in the door that masks are required.”

Miller pointed out that some SAU 9 staff had attended the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting in a tent in Jackson to accept an award on Oct. 27 at the Wentworth.

“And they were not threatened by their peers in a tent of at least 100 people where it was masks optional,” she said. “You were not threatened by peers when you accepted an award. … We’re a threat to you, but going to a party isn’t a threat?”

SAU 9 received the “Employer of the Year” award at the meeting. Richard said he and three other staff members attended and wore masks except to eat dinner and accept the award.

“I have made the statement: Either you mask up, show me a note or the meeting is over,” Lentini said.

“Did you make that unilaterally just by yourself,” Nordlund asked. “Nobody else weighed in on that?”

“I’m adjourning the meeting,” Lentini said. He and other school board members and administrators packed up.

As people were leaving, Chase, who did put on a mask, asked why the meeting couldn’t have been held in the middle school gymnasium where there would be “enough room to spread out.”

“You talk about social distancing, masks don’t work, vaccines don’t work,” he said.

One of the biggest losers of the night may have been students in the Project SUCCEED before- and after-school program at John H. Fuller Elementary, Conway Elementary and Pine Tree schools. The board held a public hearing at the outset of the meeting on an anonymous $50,000 grant for the program but never got the opportunity to vote on it, which would have been item 9B on the agenda.

“That’s a real shame,” Richard said Tuesday by phone. “Thank goodness we were able to get the personnel items through (earlier in the agenda).”

Those included 14 personnel actions including two resignations, two retirements, some transfers and the hiring of two long-term substitute teachers at Kennett High School. He added: “It’s difficult to reschedule school board meetings, to be honest, because there are so many other meetings on the schedule.”

Richard said he has not seen another incident like Monday’s where the board had to adjourn due to citizens’ actions.

“It’s very unfortunate,” he said. “We’ve had disruptions because of emergencies but nothing like this.”

Richard said the board may choose to bring in a police officer at its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 22. The board is slated to begin working on its 2022-23 budget that night.

Lentini said there also will be the option for people to tune in remotely via Zoom.

“We have people who come to our meetings who have compromised immune systems,” he said. “Those folks (who choose not to mask) are endangering the welfare of people. If you won’t wear a mask for yourself, do it out of respect for everyone else.”

Lentini noted: “I have a meeting for Mountain Rescue Service tonight with other team leaders, and we’ll talk about how we keep our team safe — that’s what we do.”

He added: “It’s what we’re trying to do in our schools.”

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(5) comments

blue

If the meeting had already been going on why all of a sudden did this man have to make a big deal out of few not wearing a mask?

WalkingWithTheBear

The article clearly states that after article 5B on the agenda had been covered, these individuals entered the area and were immediately asked to put on a mask. It's patently untrue to state or imply that the meeting had been going on for a while and then this man made a big deal out of it.

Stormmy8

“ “You talk about social distancing, masks don’t work, vaccines don’t work,” he said”. I thought it was just GOP or Q followers responding to marching orders but now I’m convinced that these people are just plain stupid. Thanks for nothing A holes as the rest of us work toward ENDING this pandemic.

WebMaintain

I'm glad you posted the names of these selfish people. They must be the Tucker Carlson fan club.

tjendzejec

Should have just called the CPD and had them removed by force.

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