The Southington school board recently voted to return to meeting via remote video conferencing. Remote meetings had been the routine following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but the board resumed in-person meetings in August, with board members practicing social distancing in the John Weichsel Municipal Center assembly room. With schools set to reopen it made sense for the board to return to in-person gatherings as well, at the very least as a show of solidarity.
So, why the switch back to virtual meetings?
It appears to have come down to concern over a single board member, who was not wearing a mask during the in-person meetings and the unease experienced by fellow board members.
Joseph Baczewski Jr., the board vice chairman, has been following Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order about when mask wearing is required, but everything shouldn’t have to come down to technicalities. The discomfort of colleagues ought to be enough to spur a reconsideration, as well as the interest of moving along with the business at hand. With schools closing temporarily along with many other concerns, both virus-related and not, it must be extraordinarily frustrating for the board to get bogged down by an issue that could be resolved by a simple expression of courtesy.
In other words, wouldn’t the school district and Southington in general be better served if Baczewski would wear a mask?
In lieu of that simple solution, the board recently held a poll, by email, that narrowly favored returning to meeting remotely.
“We’re spending too much time on one person who doesn’t want to wear a mask,” said Robert Brown, a board member who voted in favor of going remote. “There are a lot of important issues — kids getting sick, we have schools that are closed, we don’t have substitute teachers. We have to figure out how to move forward.”
Last month, facing criticism, Baczewski said he wears a mask when he needs to. “I wear my mask into this building because I like to talk with people. I take it off when I am seated and spaced appropriately from others. If I need to get up or when I leave, I put my mask back on. Why do I do this? Because I want to model the behavior I expect from our students in this town.”
It’s too bad that not wearing a mask during a meeting has proven an upsetting distraction at a time when school districts have so much to worry about, including trying to get through a school year in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
Respect and courtesy for others ought to prevail. In the absence of that, the board is better off holding its meetings at a safe distance.