New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Zeoli, Deane at odds over masks for students
ORANGE — With one citing experience and the other science, the town’s incumbent first selectman and his November challenger have very different opinions on whether schoolchildren should be required to wear masks as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The question of whether masks should be required in schools for teachers and students lit up a debate between Republican First Selectman James Zeoli and his Democrat challenger Connor Deane, and, while the pair addressed various issues, it was the mask question that got the strongest response from the audience on both sides.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends all schools require universal masking and use additional COVID-19 prevention strategies regardless of how many students, educators, and staff are vaccinated.
Zeoli told the audience that teachers should be vaccinated and wear masks in school when in “close proximity” to students, but he emphasized repeatedly that children are like “little heat engines” and can’t tolerate wearing a mask all day.
The incumbent indicated he’s against children wearing masks all day based on what he sees on the playground outside Town Hall and over years of driving a school bus before becoming first selectman in 2005.
“Children, I don’t believe, can wear a mask all the time. If you come out of my office and you see the kids out on the playground there running and jumping and carrying on, none of them have masks on when they’re outdoors. They can’t.
They’re like little heat engines,” Zeoli said. “They’re just having a great time but they’re just generating so much heat that they can’t.”
Zeoli then pivoted into his bus driving years, saying of the heat-generating tendency, “Well, they do that (generate heat) even sitting still.”
He said while driving the bus — especially in that first part of the year — when he got to the home of some of those little ones, “the kindergartners especially,” they would be “soaking wet like a little ragamuffin sprawled out on a bed,” then he corrected himself to say, “their seat.”
He was referring to drop-off time on the bus and said drivers used to carry the kids off the bus, but by the time he retired the rules had changed so the child’s family took them off the bus.
In contrast, Deane told the crowd he’s going with science and is favor of masks for all.
“Are masks the only thing preventing someone from getting COVID?” Deane asked rhetorically. “No.”
“Does it help slow the spread?” he asked. “Yes.”
“I don’t think this is a question of debate,”
“If we are that worked up over a mask, I think we have to have a separate debate quite frankly and I’m happy to do that,” Deane said. “This is my belief and it’s not my belief I came up with on my own. It’s because of science and I stand by that.”
Deane, a political newcomer and founder of Broadway Method Academy in Fairfield, and Zeoli, a farmer in his eighth term leading the town, are expected to participate in two future debates.