Opinion

Glocester School Committee: Where Education and Shared Responsibility Go to Die

Some elected officials in Glocester, R.I., think this is a symbol of freedom when in fact it is a dereliction of duty that puts politics above public health. (istock)

Look no further than to the northwest corner of Rhode Island to understand why COVID-19 will be with us forever and why we have no chance of mitigating the floods, fires, drought and all-around suffering ravaging the planet.

The six members of the Glocester School Committee voted unanimously this week to sue the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over its recent statewide mask mandate.

The School Committee six-pack doesn’t like the governor’s executive order requiring masks in schools, so they voted to allow medical, religious and conscientious objections to the directive, which was made, let’s not forget, to protect students, teachers, administrators, staff and families. The idea behind wearing benign pieces of cloth is to stop the spread and mutation of a disease that can leave lasting health impacts or worse.

But the logic of those charged with shaping education in Glocester is stuff of jurisprudence legend, as the committee’s chairman explained: Most parents who have spoken out at meetings are not necessarily against masks, they just don’t want to be told what to do.

They must really hate the Ten Commandments.

If that’s the case, why stop with simply ignoring sound medical advice during a pandemic? Let’s have some fun. Stopping at red lights is optional. Kitchen staff washing their hands after bathroom breaks is chef’s choice. Smoke, urinate, defecate and masturbate where you please. Free parking in handicapped spots, in front of fire hydrants and in bicycle and bus lanes. Pay your bills or don’t. It doesn’t matter, because no one should tell anyone what to do.

Shared responsibility is Nazi propaganda. Personal freedom, even at the expense of public health and humankind’s future, is all that matters, just ask the School Committee’s chairman, Jonathan Burlingame.

“The people want the choice,” he said. “To be forced to do it, I think that bothers some of the townspeople.”

Well, the rest of society certainly doesn’t want to upset the selfish in Glocester.

Burlingame isn’t a health-care professional, but that doesn’t stop him from playing doctor at School Committee meetings.

At the committee’s Aug. 23 meeting, the general manager of an office retail company dismissed concern that unvaccinated people and children too young to be vaccinated could get sick or be responsible for high levels of coronavirus transmission if they do not wear masks while in school, claiming the information the state has provided about the benefits of wearing masks “wasn’t really conclusive information.”

Earlier this month, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Health for the past six years, told school officials that all students and staff should be masked this fall.

“The public health guidance is clear: to prevent the widespread transmission of COVID-19, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools must be wearing masks,” she wrote in a letter distributed to school leaders. “I am writing to you to strongly urge you to act on this imperative and to enforce an indoor mask requirement across the schools in your district. I am asking you to do this to protect the health and safety of those in your community and all Rhode Islanders.”

But, since some people in Glocester don’t like to be told what to do, the medical advice of a guy who sells buttons that say “That was easy” trumps an actual doctor with years of experience as a specialist in infectious diseases.

Not to be outdone in playing politics with a lethal disease, Senate Minority Whip Jessica de la Cruz, a real-estate investor whose district includes Glocester, has called for the General Assembly “to immediately reconvene and terminate the latest COVID state of emergency.”

For people who don’t like to be told what to do, they sure seem to enjoy telling others what to do.

No word yet if Burlingame and de la Cruz have tapped into their vast medical connections to order livestock deworming paste for the cafeteria.

Aug. 26 update: More than 100,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States, a level not seen since late January, when coronavirus vaccines were not widely available, as the country grapples with the delta variant’s spread. The Washington Post also reported that current pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 have reached 2,100 nationally, topping 2,000 for the first time since last August.

Aug. 27 update: Burlingame told WPRI the School Committee would comply with the governor’s mandate now that the Department of Health (DOH) had issued specific protocols. Those protocols are dated Aug. 20, three days before the Glocester School Committee voted to sue and permit a mask exemption for conscientious objectors, which DOH doesn’t allow.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.

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    • Ann, as a born and raised Bay Stater, it was inevitable I would spell Glocester the Massachusetts way at least once. Mistake corrected. — Frank Carini, ecoRI News editor

  1. Bad case of cognitive dissonance over there, eh? Good thing they have money to burn on legal challenges to a mandate intended to keep their community healthy. Maybe they should spend some of their budget in stead on deprogramming those school committee members who have been brainwashed by Fox "News" (a.k.a., the right-wing political propaganda machine disguising itself as a “fair and balanced” source of information). It would be money well spent.

  2. Thank you. I’ve reposted the”keys have some fun” paragraph from this great article. We need to reframe our message. No one should have the freedom to infect other people.

  3. Really? That’s what you took from this article? That the town name was misspelled?? You obviously missed the point.

  4. We’re not all crazy here. There are plenty of us in Glocester that will hopefully be voting these people out.

  5. I was at the meeting. It was a sickening display of pandering to a bunch of loud mouth cry babies, who have 0 empathy and 0 ability to think beyond what FOX AND FRIENDS TELLS THEM what to think.

    I called them out and let them know that it was a derriliction of duty. That they should be ashamed of themselves and that including ridiculous conscientious objector clause made the mask mandate null n void. It seemed that some committee members did not take kindly to my words, and those or others who made comments AFTER the decisions were made.

  6. Was the author drunk when writing this? How is rejecting mask mandates in any way connected to climate change? This is the kind of out-there thinking that turns people off to valid environmentalism.

    • Art, I hadn’t been drinking, but thanks for asking. The connection is simple: If a significant portion of the population won’t accept vaccine and mask science after more than 600,000 people in the U.S. have died, businesses closed and jobs lost because of the pandemic, how do we expect climate science to be taken seriously? History shows we haven’t taken climate science seriously to this point. It was about how selfishness and ignorance have kept us from dealing effectively with COVID and how these traits will likely (and sadly) keep us from addressing the climate crisis in any meaningful way. Environmentalism, public health and social justice are all connected. If we don’t address all of them, we address none. — Frank Carini, ecoRI News editor

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