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AFT-NH Testimony on HB 1131 (regarding face coverings in schools)

Testimony of AFT-NH on HB1131

From Debrah Howes, President AFT-NH

To NH Senate Health and Human Services Committee Dear Chairman Bradley and Members of the Committee,

My name is Debrah Howes. I am the president of the American Federation of Teachers-NH.  AFT-NH represents 3,500 teachers, paraeducators and school support staff, public service employees and higher education staff across New Hampshire.

I write to you in opposition to HB1131 – relative to facial covering policies in schools. We are all overjoyed that COVID case transmission numbers have come down significantly and we are now, many of us, going without masks. Believe me, many of my members are enjoying being able to see whole faces at school, including lots of smiles. No one is eager to ever see a return to everyone wearing masks, but we also know that masks were an effective tool when case numbers were extremely high as part of the layered mitigation strategy that kept the spread of the virus in check in our schools and allowed schools to remain open. We cannot predict what future variants this virus may develop, nor can we predict what other airborne viruses may occur in the future. It would be shortsighted to remove an effective tool from the toolbox of local school boards, who are the ones who make these policies.

We urge you to find this bill Inexpedient to Legislate to keep decision-making on mask policies in the hands of those who know local conditions the best, local, elected school boards. They are best positioned to respond to a localized spike in contagious, airborne illness, and can act to add layers of mitigation as recommended in guidelines from reputable public health officials like the CDC or NH Department of Public Health Services. Local school boards also can act quickly to try to prevent severe shortages of healthy staff to keep schools open. They can also remove layers of mitigation when case rates fall locally. A one size fits all edict legislated from Concord goes against common sense and our NH tradition of local control.

There is another piece of this bill that is particularly troublesome. This bill would punish educators who enforce a local mask policy with discipline under the Educator Code of Conduct, which could mean a loss of their teaching license. Teachers and school staff have to uphold the policies passed by their local school boards. To refuse to do so is insubordination and grounds to be fired. If you pass this law as it is written, you are now saying that you will punish educators if they DO enforce a locally passed policy. Teachers should not be put in the middle between their employer’s policy and this law! I am urging you not to put teachers and school staff in this impossible situation.

On behalf of my members, I am urging that the committee find this bill Inexpedient to Legislate.

Sincerely, Debrah Howes

President, AFT-NH

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