Lowell School Committee Member Trashes ‘Fear and Hysteria’ of New Mask Requirement

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Lowell school officials plan to require all students and teachers to wear masks indoors – but over the sharp objection of a school committee member who described the new policy as succumbing to “fear and hysteria.”

Mike Dillon Jr., a firefighter and former teacher who was first elected to the city’s school committee in November 2019, let loose on a school district plan that calls for masks and frequent testing for coronavirus in cases of exposure.

Dillon spoke for almost nine minutes, drawing a burst of applause from some in the audience afterward.

Dillon addressed a new masks policy outlined by superintendent of schools Joel Boyd, which was influenced by a letter from the chairman of the Lowell Board of Health.

Jo-Ann Keegan, a registered nurse and chairman of the city’s board of health, wrote a letter to school officials dated Tuesday, August 10 strongly encouraging them to require masks to be worn in school buildings this upcoming school year as a means of mitigating the spread of what she described as the highly contagious delta variant of coronavirus.

“Masks are recommend[ed] even for those vaccinated because some vaccinated folks infected with the Delta variant may be contagious and able to transmit the virus,” Keegan wrote.

The state is not requiring face masks in all schools. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has repeatedly said he plans to allow local school districts to make their own decisions, citing relatively low coronavirus numbers in the state and the relatively high rate of vaccination.

But Boyd noted that the city’s schools followed the board of health’s recommendations last year, and he recommended that the city’s schools continue to do so.

“The board of health is recommending facemasks for all individuals indoors at all times, unless not possible due to the activity. There are only a couple of activities I can think of that – eating, and playing an instrument. But there’s very, very few exceptions right now, indoors,” Boyd said. “Outdoors, masks are not required, but indoors masks are required, regardless or vaccination status, regardless of age, and regardless of whether you’re a student, staff member, or visitor. Masks are required.”

Boyd also announced a “test-and-stay” protocol recommended by the state, which allows students who are exposed to coronavirus to be tested immediately at the school, with a negative test meaning they can stay in school. Last year, students who were exposed had to quarantine whether they tested positive for coronavirus or not.

Boyd said the policy can be adjusted if coronavirus numbers change and lead to different recommendations from health officials.

A majority of teachers and paraprofessionals in the teachers union support requiring everyone to wear masks, said Paul Georges, president of United Teachers of Lowell.

“They believe it’s wiser to be masked at this point,” Georges said.

The lone dissenter was Dillon, who decried the mask requirement as unnecessary and unwise.

Below is a transcript of what Dillon initially said on the topic during the Lowell School Committee meeting of Wednesday, August 11 (starting at 1:51:39 of the video), after being called on by Mayor John Lynch, the chairman of the committee:


Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

I guess I want to talk about a couple of things. Fear being one of them. Fear and blame. I think those are two things that have gotten to us to where we are right now, with our policy making, especially around Covid.

We’ve been driven by fear and hysteria for a year and a half. And Paul continued to do it, like he does, and like the national teachers unions do. Continuing to drive fear and hysteria over this situation.

And fear’s the strongest human emotion that there is. It’s responsible for the fight-or-flight response. And we’ve been in this never-ending state of fight-or-flight.

You know, some people react by, you know, fighting. Some people react by fleeing. And we all have our, you know — both can be valuable in certain situations.

What we’re trying to do through this fear and hysteria is make everybody take flight, and make everybody run away from this thing. When not everybody takes on challenges that way. I know I certainly don’t. I’d like to fight this thing. And I have been.

And, if we’re gonna start pigeonholing everybody in to react to this situation in the same way, then we’re just getting ourselves into trouble. There are contradictions throughout this mandate, throughout the things that, you know, anybody says. We don’t know anything about this. You know, Paul seems so sure that the delta variant is more dangerous for little children. Well, those are all the talking points out there coming from the national union, and stirring more hysteria.

And so we are pushing ourselves back into a hole, and fleeing. That’s how we’re reacting to fear right now.

We’ve been doing this for so long, now it’s turning into the blame game. I guess it’s not turning into it, it’s been that way for a long time.

And this notion that my health is everybody else’s responsibility, is not a psychologically healthy way to think. I think any therapist or psychologist will tell you that learning you can’t control everybody else’s reaction or words, is a big part of having a clear mind, and thinking straight.

Everybody else’s actions are not responsible for your health. You’re responsible for your own health. You’re responsible for the protection of your own family. That’s the way that we need to be thinking about this.

I mean, we’re – all the cause of this division, we’re trying to tell everybody how to handle it, and force it down their throat. And we’re just playing along.

I don’t know who actually makes the decisions around here. But, you know, I was expecting that the school committee was going to have some sort of discussion on it, the superintendent would have his own personal opinion on it, and we’d make a decision.

Well, the day before this meeting, the board of health and the city jumped in and made that decision for us. Totally based on fear and hysteria. Because they can’t make their own decision.

I don’t believe that everybody thinks that this is the way that we should be going. But they cannot get past the berating, and the blame, and the negativity that’s gonna come in their direction, if they choose that path.

We’re still talking about masks. This is two years. We’ve been doing this to our kids for two years. And we’re going to bring ‘em back in in the hottest time of the school year — September is the now the hottest time of the school year. I mean, it’s basically an extension of summer. We’re going to put masks on their faces. We’re also going to divide – I mean, we’re talking about vaccinated and unvaccinated people — treating them differently, and quarantining them differently.

So we’re going to send them to school with a mask on, effectively muzzling their communication. Never mind the kids that have disabilities. Alternate communication, or — Forget about anybody that has hearing problems. Can’t read lips that way.

And we’re going to put them into school. Demand that they wear a mask. And then, we’re going to subject them to testing, regularly. And they have to worry ethat very single time that they get a test, that if they test positive, they’re going to miss a few days of school, or have to quarantine for 10 days.

All the kids want and need is to be back and be part of something. And socialize.

Just a few days ago, like Dr. Boyd said, we had 4,400 – is that a close number, summer school? Forty-seven hundred students, in what seemed to me, and from all reports, was a pretty effective summer school campaign, with completely optional masks. And we’re still here. All the kids are still here. They probably had the time of their life.

And I’m besides myself that nobody else will stand here and say, ‘We’re going overboard.’ ‘Cause it’s all driven by this fear and hysteria, and fear of the mob. That you’re going to be called ‘babykiller.’ Or you killed grandma.  Or, you know, any of the other insanity that I’ve been called during this last year and a half.

I’ve got a few questions.  We don’t have any end date on a mandate. Would this – I know, you’ve touched on it, but nobody seems to care about that. The numbers in the city are below the thresholds – maybe even Mr. Hall, just with a nod — that we were talking about last year for being in-person. I don’t even think that we’re anywhere near it.

We don’t have an end. So we’re just saying ‘Masks’ – for, like, you know, some crazy amount of time.

You know?  And I guess next Monday is when it’s really going to be bad. ‘Cause this, this, you know, this ransom date that we’re just setting for masks.

So, next meeting, we’re going to have masks on in here? What happens if I don’t? Is there going to be any repercussions for it?

What happens if a student refuses to wear a mask in school? Are we going to take him out of school?

How about a staff member? What if a staff member says, ‘Yeah, I’m done with this. I’m not wearing a mask in school.’ Are you going to arrest him?

These are, I mean, these are some pretty basic questions here, that — It’s really just – Man, we’re just looking up to, like, you know, looking up above, and waiting on the O.K. to act as we want to act.

And this is, I mean, it’s, it’s frightening, and it’s dangerous, to think that we’re just allowing this control to happen.

And nobody really wants to make a decision. I will.  Let me know. Let me know when – I’ll take all the flack for it, if I’ve got to be the one to take all the flack for it.

But if I’m allowed to make a decision, I would say masks are 100 percent optional. Let everybody handle this situation the way that they want to handle it.

So — I guess one thing that I think should be a concession, is that any type of physical activity, or physical education, can be exempt from these mask policies. Because if we really want to – you know, nobody’s really thinking about how we’re going to get out of this, because we’re all just thinking based on fear.

Well, if we want to do the best for our kids, we should get them in shape. They should be moving, any chance we can get, to get them moving. The virus attacks and makes vulnerable people who are not in good physical condition. We should be teaching our kids and giving them every single opportunity. In fact, we should be making that a priority of what we’re doing.

And so, you know, when we’re sitting in here as policy makers, and telling everybody that we care – ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to put masks on, oh yeah, were going to test our kids every day, and freak them out on a daily basis on whether they’re going to be able to see their friends the next day – I think we’re full of it.

If we want kids to have a long life, and not be susceptible to this virus, then we should put a high, high priority on physical health. And mental health, for that matter. And give our kids the tools to be physically healthy for the rest of their life.

I think this is all just a show. This masks and testing stuff. And I don’t think we do really care if this is the way we’re going to go about it.

And I think we need to get some guts. We need more people around here with some guts, to be able to speak the way that they actually think.

Thank you.


The Lowell School Committee voted 6-1 to approve the new policy.

Before the vote, two school committee members said they don’t like masks but that they see requiring masks as a way to keep students and staff safe while ensuring that the city’s schools have in-person learning in the coming school year.

Two other committee members expressed support for the masks mandate without criticizing them.

Safety was the major reason supporters cited for supporting masks.

“And if it’s masking and pool testing, and the other criteria that we need to do to keep students safe, staff safe, our community safe, that is a price and a concession I’m willing to make,” committee member Connie Martin said.

Dillon responded as follows (at 2:08:17 of the video):


Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Just a couple of things to follow up.

You know, this is a virus, and it’s a respiratory virus. I don’t know if we think that there is going to be some day when we get to a point where it’s just gone, and nobody’s going to get it.

You’re all going to get it.

We got the vaccine in order to minimize symptoms if you did contract it.

So again, this fear of — that we can’t let anybody get it. We’re all going to have to beat it, in one way or another. Whether we have a vaccine, or we are, have, you know, use other health measures to beat it. You’re going to have to beat it to be walking around, at some point.

It’s a virus. It’s not going anywhere. It’s here for the foreseeable future, and you’re going to have to conquer it.

The point of the vaccine was to help with symptoms, and maybe help with not contracting it in the first place. It doesn’t mean you’re invincible. And we can clearly see that at this point.

You know, we all – we can just say ‘facts’ and ‘science’ in the middle of the chambers, but you can find a study, you know, some study that backs up any point you want. I could show up here studies that, you know, say the CDC is full of crap. Somebody did a study somewhere that made it look like they, you know, that their information was right. We don’t know anything about this thing. For sure.

Can anybody tell me if somebody who has the vaccine is more or less vulnerable to the disease than somebody who has already had it, who has natural immunity?

No. And we’re basing policy on the vaccine being this – you know, I don’t know.

You don’t have to, you don’t have to quarantine if you have a vaccine. What about people who’ve already had it? Natural immunity might be better than the vaccines. We don’t know how good they’re working at this point. They’re so new.

So when I hear ‘based on the facts,’ ‘based on the science’ — No, based on the science that you’ve read. There’s science out there that’s going to show – you know, tell you any opinion you have.

So, you know, I just don’t think that is a valid way of going about looking at it.

Thank you.