MOULTONBOROUGH — With little discussion, voters at a Special School District Meeting Wednesday rejected an article to make the wearing of face masks by Moultonborough students optional.
Held in the Moultonborough Academy Community Auditorium, the special meeting drew 371 voters, said moderator Paul Punturieri, with 156 of them casting ballots in favor of the petitioned article and 208 against; seven votes were discarded.
The article — “To see if the voters in the Moultonborough School District will vote to approve optional student masking (indoor/outdoor/sports/co-curricular) based solely on parental guidance during the 2021-2022 school year for grades Pre-K through 12 — required a simple majority to pass, said Punturieri.
It had been unanimously opposed by the Moultonborough School Board.
On Thursday, School Board Chair Pat Hart said that while the school board in August split 3-2 on the school district’s overall opening policy for the 2021-22 school year, all five members supported the use of face masks in the plan.
Had the article passed, “We would have talked about it at the next school board meeting,” he added, “and at least had a conversation” about its potential implications. There were legal opinions, Hart continued, that the article was advisory only.
What was clear at Wednesday’s special meeting — which began at 6:30 p.m. and lasted just 38 minutes before the question was moved and voting commenced for an hour — was that “The legislative party came with their minds made up and the majority wanted the question moved,” said Hart.
“They weren’t interested in a long night of discussion,” he said, “nor was anyone going to change their minds at that point in the evening.”
Hart believes the challenge to Moultonborough’s face-mask policy via a petitioned special meeting was the first of what might be up to a dozen similar efforts around the state.
He said a petition drive in the neighboring Inter-Lakes District in Meredith failed to get the required number of voter signatures, while in a second district, which he did not identify, the effort collapsed because it was deemed advisory only.
“I know that masks are uncomfortable and cumbersome at times and they definitely do impede speech and facial cues,” said Hart, but there’s a lot of study and data “to show they are effective” in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Hart doesn’t know what the supporters of the failed article may do next, but expects to hear from them.
“These are the people my kids play sports with,” he said. “We need to be one community and just because this vote happened doesn’t mean the conversation is over.”
Punturieri said that apart from an observation on special meetings, no one spoke to the substance of the article, which is why he moved to a vote on it.
Later, he and two Moultonborough selectmen counted the ballots.
In his second term as School District Moderator and third as Town Moderator, Punturieri estimated that about 10% of eligible electors voted on Wednesday.
“It was like a medium-like crowd,” he said, noting that at the Town Meeting in May, “We had less than 300 people.”