Parents of children in the New Bedford Public School system have an opportunity to participate in the debate over whether face coverings should be required when the fall semester begins a few weeks from now. The New Bedford School Committee meets this evening and could vote on a mask policy for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Several parents have expressed concern that their children may be required to mask up to return to school, a prospect that makes some unhappy. If you agree or if you are in favor of a mask mandate, now is the time to speak out.

While there are no set policies concerning the use of face coverings in school, health officials on the federal and state levels are recommending masks, particularly for those under 12 years old for whom vaccines are unavailable.

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Some have expressed concerns about the possible health effects of children wearing masks all day while in school. It is not natural and in some cases has caused children to have an unhealthy reaction to them. They say there is no science to indicate that children are at risk of illness by not wearing face coverings. On the other hand, medical experts say masks are essential to stem the spread of the Delta variant of the COVID virus to others.

School Committeeman Chris Cotter said members of the public will be given a chance to state their views provided they register to speak before the start of the meeting. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Keith Middle School. Both Cotter and Committeeman John Oliveira say they are inclined to vote against a mask mandate at this time.

Let's hope all committee members keep an open mind and include the views of concerned parents in their decision-making process. Let's also hope that parents take advantage of this opportunity and turn out tonight to present their case for or against a mask mandate.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at barry@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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