Transcripts of Anti-Masks-Mandate Remarks By Two Baker Appointees on Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Printed from:

Editor’s Note:  Two members of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made extensive arguments against forcing students to wear masks in public schools in the state during a board meeting on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.  Both are appointees of Governor Charlie Baker, who supports the masks mandate. The two board members are Martin West and Paymon Rouhanifard.

The masks mandate passed, 9-1. West voted for the policy, though he spent most of his time raising objections to it.

A complete transcript of the remarks of West and Rouhanifard is below.


Martin West

Martin West

West spoke after being recognized by the board chairman, Katherine Craven. West’s comments begin at 5:00 and last until 9:20 of the video of the online meeting:


Thank you, Chair Craven.

Before I say anything else, I want to acknowledge the thousands of citizens of the Commonwealth, most of them parents, who wrote to us, to express their views on either side of the issue before us today. Regardless of how we vote we won’t please everyone, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t heard everyone’s voices or we don’t value their engagement in this process.

Second, in thinking about the proposal, I want to reject the notion that the decision we’re confronting is a simple matter of following the science. In my judgment, evidence on the efficacy of masking in school settings for preventing the spread of Covid is less clear cut than is often suggested.  Nor does science tell us how to value whatever benefits it produces against the costs to students of not being able to see their teachers’ faces for most of the school day.

So I respect the views of any colleagues on the board who look at the same evidence that I do and reach different conclusions.

Third, I want to express my frustration, frankly, that we’re considering imposing mitigation measures on schools at a time when similar measures are not currently in place in seemingly similar settings populated by adults. In my view, schools should be the last places we impose such measures on, not the first.

But that’s not something that we, as a board, on our own, control.

As I see it, the decision we face is whether exigent circumstances exist that adversely affect the ability of students to safely attend school. And if not, we don’t have a legal basis to grant Commissioner Riley the authority he’s seeking.

Then, we may also want to ask ourselves whether the steps the commissioner plans to take – which I appreciate him having shared with us in advance — will result in a better and more consistent experience for students as they start the third school year to be impacted by the pandemic.

And, based on the information that the commissioner has shared, based on the recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services, I’m reluctantly convinced that such exigent circumstances exist.

I’m also hopeful that the temporary measures the commissioner has proposed will on balance be beneficial to students – in particular by preventing the need to quarantine large numbers of students in the event of positive cases in schools.

I’m also hopeful that they’ll send a clear signal to educators, as Secretary Peyser suggested, about the importance of vaccination as our first line of defense.

So I plan to vote in favor of the motion. But in doing so I’d like to ask Commissioner Riley to engage in continued conversation with us as board members and with stakeholders around the Commonwealth, about how best to exercise this authority. And that’s particularly the case in two areas where I have some concerns.

One is the lack of a clear end date or exit criteria for elementary school students who are not currently eligible for vaccination. I don’t think the default can be continued masking rather than a return to unmasked conditions.

And then, the second is the proposal that, in schools reaching 80 percent vaccination rates, unvaccinated students in these middle and high schools would continue to be required to wear masks.

On both practical and ethical grounds, I’m not sure that this approach works. I’m not sure how we’ll know who’s vaccinated. I’m not sure that we really want students to be in a position of explaining why they’re not vaccinated, or of tattling on each other for inappropriately going unmasked. So, if the data show that there’s very low within-school transmission once 80 percent of students and staff are vaccinated, then I think we should move immediately to at least experiment with letting all students to remove masks, whether they’re vaccinated or not.

So, I encourage continued conversation about those matters. But I appreciate the opportunity to consider this proposal, and plan to support it.




Paymon Rouhanifard

Paymon Rouhanifard

Rouhanifard spoke from 9:23 to 14:05 of the video of the online meeting:


Well, I’d like to begin by applauding my colleague Member West for using the word “tattling” in the middle of a high-stakes vote on public policy. I thought that was just awesome.

On a more serious note:  Let me just begin by saying I’m a No on this vote.

And for me personally, masking is not worth dying on the hill for. So I want to start there. School reopening, I was willing to storm Normandy. But there’s an order-of-magnitude difference between the two. And I just want to acknowledge that.

Having said that, I do think this is a really critical issue and vote. And so:  I want to touch on the micro, the macro, and the meta.

So, micro:  as Member West [garbled] stated, tying this masking proposal to vaccination rates is just frankly really bad public policy. There’s no clear off-ramp.  It was recently reported that a vaccine for children under the age of 12 will not be approved in 2021. And even when it is, you have this very clunky, awkward, and really ethically precarious dynamic that he — that Member West, again, described vividly. And so that’s a serious concern for me. A more reasonable off-ramp would have been tying it to community spread.

I’m honestly genuinely surprised that this is being, you know, endorsed by our governor as an incentive for vaccination. Because I consider our governor and his administration to be really smart about technocratic policy solutions. I want to voice that with some candor.

For the macro:  Look, I really appreciate the presentation, and the data around case count. But I’m old enough to remember how this all started — when this all started, it was about flattening the curve. And the curve, you may recall, was about hospitalization rate and count. And all of a sudden we’re now focused on case count.  And I do believe the goalposts have shifted, and there hasn’t been an honest discussion about that.

And I realize Delta is more transmittable, and has us tied up in knots for reasons that I do think are real. But when you look at hospitalization and death rates, it remains remarkably low in our country, and particularly so in the Commonwealth.  Like, I frankly think we have an opportunity – you could argue a responsibility – to signal optimism. That we are opening the door toward normalcy. You know, vaccination rates are incredibly high – one of the highest rates in the country.  Hospitalization rates remain relatively low. You could say they’re surging, as the media often does, but it’s off a very low base. The seven-day running average for death count in the Commonwealth was 4 as of yesterday, which represents a 121 percent increase.  And so I think there’s a lot of focus on percentage increase, and losing sight of the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, hospitalization and death rates are low.

And, as has been proven many times over, children are dramatically – are dramatically lower risk of being hospitalized.  And that’s a blessing. In the midst of what has been a very difficult situation.

And for all of those reasons, I just think that erring on the side of caution loses sight of the bigger picture.

And I’ll just close with the meta. You know, when this all started, and as our school reopening debate demonstrated, a debate about the pandemic and how we address it in policy solutions really became a debate about Trumpism itself, and where you stand ideologically. You know, rather than meeting in the messy middle to determine evidence-based policy solutions. I mean, look at how many holes Member West just poked in this proposal itself. And I think there’s something to that.

And blue states like ours went too far with restrictions, and we paid the price. And red states have gone too far in the other direction.

And when I hear some of my friends say, “Our family practices social distancing and masking,” it almost sounds like a religion, to be honest with you all.  And I think this proposal plays to the visceral tendencies of our body politic, that should not ultimately drive public policy.

I really think we need to signal that better things — better days are ahead. Because they are. And that’s the direction we’re headed.

And without a clear off-ramp, I just really worry about this proposal.

Thank you very much.


New to NewBostonPost?  Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts.  But you’ve found it.  Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months.  And join the real revolution.