Anti-Mask Mandate Protest At School Dept Monday – Will Students Show Up To Schools UnCovered?

Photo: the petition on ending the Belmont schools mask mandate

At the final Belmont School Committee meeting before the February vacation break, Brian Brady directed a provocative hypothetical to School Superintendent John Phelan and the committee.

”I’m curious … what would occur if students came to school on February 28 without masks?” asked the father of three, then pointing to a decision by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Feb. 9 to end mask mandates in schools on the last day of the month.

Brady continued tossing “what-if” scenarios at Phelan including what the town’s “remedies” would be for those “children who simply chose to go to school without … a mask on.”

A few minutes later, Patrick Whittemore would echo Brady’s interest in the causality of not wearing masks.

”I want to kind of double down on Brian’s question,” said Whittemore, who has been a regular participant at committee meetings advocating against the wearing of masks. “If kids show up on February 28 without masks on, what actions, if any, will the school department take?”

[Phelan would not provide details of a schools response to the two, seemingly prepared for the question by recognizing “that this has been a hard two years and … [going to school with a mask] is a common goal that everyone has in doing so in a safe way” and the community should continue to show “some patience” until that can be done.]

While similar queries from a pair of parents could be serendipity, the questions of the likely reaction by school principals on coverless students could also announce a specific challenge to the district’s mask directive by a determined group in town. While on-line parent boards and Facebook pages have been quiet on taking direct action protests on school property, the question remains whether some believe a demonstration would be a viable act to commit.

While not contacted to questions directed to Whittemore, Brady contacted the Belmontonian to clarify his public statement.

“Absolutely not,” Brady said on facilitating a mask protest. “The notion that I am part of protest movement that encourages anyone, especially school children, to break to law, is deeply offensive. It’s also pretty dumb.”

“I would only endorse removal of masks for children in schools after it is approved by the [Board of Health] and [School Committee],” he said.

“I called school committee last night because I wanted to,” said Brady. “My questions were actually pretty simple.”

While eastern Massachusetts has been spared the aggressive confrontations seen in other parts of the country, protests are occurring. On Feb. 18, a Boston Globe article (Boston Public Library children’s rooms targeted by group opposing mask requirements, staff say)focused on maskless families encamping in Children’s Room at branches of the Boston Public Library, refusing to comply with the city’s indoor mask mandate. The scofflaws confronted librarians while making videos of the confrontation with staff and eventually police.

Since the beginning of the year, a growing number of Belmont parents have been questioning the need of mask and other protections to the Covid-19 virus. The call for the end of requirements are varied and long standing: masks are ineffective, they are the cause of mental health issues, they escalate learning loss especially among early learners and others.

Those parents have seen their positions bolstered by actions by state and local governments and by the federal health. On Friday, Feb. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance in which healthy people can go maskless if they live in a county with low rates of infection and their hospitals are not overwhelmed with Covid patients. And Middlesex county rates a low risk in those measures.

While anti-mask parents are pointing to the changing mask landscape, Belmont – which under state law has final say on health policy – isn’t eager to deviate from the course it has set for more than two years. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, 2020, the town and schools have given the Board of Health and the Heath Department ultimate leeway in dictating the direction the town would keep its residents safe and healthy, including mandating masks for indoor spaces and schools.

While residents have debated and argued with officials on aspects of health issues – two candidates were elected to the school committee in April 2021 to advocate, in part, for in-school instruction – the Health Board’s policies have been followed with little real opposition.

While a possible Monday protest by students and parents at schools is, at best, speculative, one set of parents has announced its intention to face up to school officials and call for the end of masking in Belmont.

Led by Antonio Molle, the ad hoc body dubbed Belmont MA Against Mandates will be knocking on the door of the School Administration Building on Pleasant Street at 3 p.m., Monday, Feb. 28 to deliver a physical copy of a petition – currently signed by 264 residents – which “demands” the immediately lifting of “the mask mandate for ALL Belmont Public School students, staff, visitors.”

“The group of Belmont residents is handing in the petition in light of the School Committee’s recent delay in the unmasking of Belmont public school students,” stated Molle, who has recently been a frequent participant at Zoom meetings advocating anti-mask positions, including calling for the Select Board not to impose a Covid passport in Belmont, which the board found to be a bit of a head scratcher as no board member or residents has ever advocated for it in the Town of Homes.

And as the group arrives at the school administration’s door, town and school officials are preparing to discuss and likely vote on continuing the indoor mask requirement. In early February, the Board of Health discussed creating a new data rubric for ending the mandate relying on CDC guidelines.

“Mandates are not going on forever,” said Health Board Chair Donna David at the February meeting. The board voted to meet on March 7 to take a likely vote on a recommendation whether to end the requirement or continue the mandate. And the next day, Tuesday, March 8, the School Committee will discuss the guidance and possible vote on the measure, said Amy Checkoway, chair of the school committee.

Belmont Boy’s Hockey Preps For Tourney Taking Down Top 5 Catholic Memorial; Natick High Next Up For Marauders

Photo: Belmont High senior Matt Rowen (right) scores his second goal within two minutes in the second period giving the Marauders a lead they would not loss in beating Catholic Memorial, 4-1.

After the final whistle sounded in Belmont High Boys’ Ice Hockey statement-making 4-1 victory against Bay State powerhouse Catholic Memorial last Friday at the Skip, the players and coaches didn’t want to leave the ice. They hung around chest bumping, hugging, attempting a “snow” angel but mostly just skated around taking in the victory on what would likely be the final time playing on home ice.

In front of a packed Skip Viglorolo Skating Rink (the last time it was this full was almost two years to the night when Belmont beat up Braintree on its way to the 2020 co-state Div. 1 championship) Belmont buried two early chances then relied on its defensive system and strong goaltending by senior Ryan Griffin to defeat the second-ranked and Catholic League champions in what the Marauders’ hope is a harbinger of things to come in the state tournament.

The MIAA released the tournament schedule on Feb. 26 and 7th-ranked Belmont will take on the 26th-seed Natick High in the round of 32 sometime and somewhere still to be determined. [Editor’s note: An earlier edition stated information from the original MIAA Div. 1 tournament seeding with Belmont vs. Bishop Fenwick.]

“We just brought it tonight. From the beginning to the end, from buzzer to buzzer the players were hyped up by who we were playing and it showed,” said Tim Foley, who has led the Marauders to a 17-1-3 season in his first campaign as head coach.

“It was a great night for the town of Belmont and Belmont High School hockey,” he said.

Up against a big team which has used its size and speed on the wings to dominate opponents, Belmont relayed on its designed defense tactics that put a lock on CM’s ability to string passes in the Belmont zone while forcing most of the action along the boards. “We always talk to the defense: play poised, don’t panic. ‘You know how to play the position; stay between the opponent, keep your stick in the right place and you’ll be hard to beat’,” said Foley.

Midway through the contest, a CM coach implored his charges that “we have to win the puck battles. We are not winning the one-on-ones.” When told of CM’s concern on being unable to get the better of Belmont’s defenders, Foley pointed to the Marauders’ mindset.

“We have a good, quick fast team that plays with a high tempo and we just kept coming with pressure, kept clogging up the middle and kept frustrating them. The more we frustrated them, the more chances we got,” said Foley. “The players have worked hard all year with the stick work, keeping sticks in lanes and keeping the pucks on the outside. And that has been a big part of our success.”

During a fairly even opening stanza, a pair of tripping penalties by CM 30 seconds apart gave the hosts a two-man advantage and that’s all Belmont needed. Co-captain senior Matty Rowen grabbed a partially blocked shot from defender Peter Grace and with a snap shot stirred it by CM goalie Dom Walecka for a 1-0 lead at the 11:46 mark. Rowen doubled Belmont’s lead half a minute later, having lost the weak-side defender and scored off a pitch perfect pass from junior Cam Fici resulting in an open net tip in.

And the momentum continued despite a man down early in the second. Thirty seconds into the second period while on the penalty kill, a deft clearing pass found Fici speeding down the left wing on a two-on-two. With co-captain Shay Donahue occupying one defender and the other retreating into the slot, Fici waited for the slightest move by Walecka and fired a slap-shot past the helpless CM goalie.

While CM pressed on, the remainder of the nearly two periods would be a repetition of the visitors entering the Belmont zone and the Marauders taking procession and dumping it back to center ice. CM’s Ty Magliozzi put the Knights on the board with 10 minutes remaining in the third on the power play but they couldn’t come up with anything more imaginative to break Belmont’s D. A Fici open net finished off the Knights with two to play.

“That’s a very good team,” Foley said of CM. “I give credit to them and I wouldn’t want to play them in a four out of seven. But we got them tonight.”

Snow Emergency Starts Thursday Night; Town Buildings Closed Friday; Friday Trash Pickup Delayed

Photo: If it’s on the street Friday, you might see it going away

With a foot of snow ready to be dumped on the heads of residents, the town of Belmont has declared a snow emergency effective Thursday, Feb. 24 at 11:45 p.m. until the town says otherwise.

A parking ban will also be in effect for all roadways and municipal and school parking lots. If the town finds your vehicle in said areas, it will be towed at your expense.

Due to the expected inclement weather and unsafe road conditions, Belmont town offices and the Belmont Public Library will be closed on Friday, Feb. 25.

And due to the Presidents Day holiday, if your usual trash and recycling pick-up day of Thursday was pushed back a day, the snowstorm will give you the distinction of having your stuff removed on Saturday. The Department of Public Works is asking residents to keep barrels off the streets and sidewalk on Friday until the snow is removed. And be sure the trash and recycling is ready to go at 7 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 26.

Final Topping Off Ceremony For Middle And High School On March 4

Photo: The previous topping ceremony took place in May 2020.

The Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee (BMHSBC) and general contractor Skanska USA is inviting the community to the in-person “topping off” ceremony for the Middle School segment of the Belmont Middle and High School on Friday, March 4 at 11 a.m.

The celebration is the final topping off of the $295 million project, a milestone that speaks to the completion of the entire building erection, said the head of the town’s oversight group.

“Looking back over the nearly six years of planning and execution, it is an incredible feeling to be realizing the start of the end of this construction project”, said Bill Lovallo, BMHSBC chair, in an e-mail released Feb. 23.

Speakers will include Belmont High School Principal Isaac Taylor, School Committee Chair Amy Checkoway, Massachusetts School Building Authority Chief Operating Officer James MacDonald, and representatives from Skanska. Special musical guest is the Belmont High School Marching Band. Chenery Middle School Principal Karla Koza will arrive with student council members from grades 5 and 6, representing the students who will be in the new grade 7 and 8 wing when completed in September 2023.

Students and the public can sign the beam in the morning before the ceremony from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

The first topping off celebration for the grade 9-12 wing was held virtually on May 15, 2020 due to COVID.

Town Meeting Dates Set, Warrant Opened For Town Articles/Citizen Petitions

Photo: The dates have been set for Belmont’s annual Town Meeting

The Select Board set the days the warrant for the 2022 Belmont annual Town Meeting is open. The board voted to open the warrant on Tuesday, Feb. 22 and closing it at 4 p.m. on the Ides of March, the 15th.

”That will give ample time to get articles in the warrant, both from the town and for any citizen petitions that may be coming,” said Adam Dash, board chair.

Under Massachusetts law, residents may place articles before Town Meeting without the approval by the Select Board by petitioning the Town Clerk to insert the article in the warrant. Officially, it only requires 10 resident signatures on the petition to secure a place on the warrant although the Town Clerk’s office suggests obtaining 15 to be on the safe side.)

Town Administrator Patrice Garvin also announced the dates Town Meeting will take place:
• Segment A (consisting of housekeeping articles, citizen petitions, town articles and non-binding resolutions): May 2, 4, 9 and 11.
• Segment B (which deals with the budgets and financial issues): June 1, 6, 8 and 13.

Town-Wide Covid Vaccination Clinic At Beth El Temple Monday, Feb. 28

Photo: Covid vaccine clinic in Belmont on Monday, Feb. 28

The Belmont Health Department is offering COVID-19 vaccines to eligible residents, including first, second and booster shots on Monday, Feb. 28 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Beth El Temple Center, 2 Concord Ave.

Register for a vaccine appointment HERE.

Please present insurance cards, photo ID, and vaccination cards at appointment.

This clinic will be operated through a partnership between VaxinateRX and the Belmont Health Department. The Pfizer vaccine will be available.

Having difficulty registering? Call 617-993-2720 or Email: for assistance

Athletics: Coelho Takes D2 600 meters Crown; Shea Sets National Sophomore Indoor Mile Record

Photo: Belmont High Senior Jackson Coelho (center) on the top step after winning the 600 meter sprint in the MIAA D2 state championships

Belmont High’s running star Jackson Coelho has been putting a number of explanation points onto his senior year. In November, Coelho led the Belmont High harriers to its best placement in a decade at the MIAA cross country championships (7th in Div. 1B) as he finished 6th. Earlier in the month, the captain won the competitive Middlesex League indoor title in the 600 meters.

And on Feb. 20, Coelho became a state champion winning the MIAA Division 2 600 meters at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston, hitting the tape in 1 minute, 24.18 seconds defeating prerace favorite Jack Determan of North Andover (1:24.75) and Middlesex League rival Aidan Sheehan from Arlington (1:25.08) who finished in third.

Coelho is not ready to end his indoor career just yet as he will head to the MIAA All-State Championship on Saturday, Feb. 26 where the top runners and field participants in the five divisions will compete.

Belmont’s freshman Dana Lehr (left)

Belmont saw additional outstanding performances Sunday. In the Girls’ kilometer, freshman Dana Lehr took nearly two seconds off her seeded time and finished in 3:09.99 to place 6th – Lehr doubled up with the 2-mile finishing 21st in 12:24.64 – while George Pomer prepped for the state pentathlon meet by taking 5th in the high jump with a height of 5-feet, 10-inches.

Other Marauders in the meet included Austin Lasseter (19.01.25) in the long jump, Jason Woo (7.08) and Maya Rodriquez-Clark (7.84) in the 55 meter prelims, Ailinn Capitani who took 20th in the mile (5:44.49) and Shanta Gardner doubling in the long jump (14.11) and the 55 meter hurdles prelim (10.31).

Shea Closing In On All-Time State Mile Mark

Belmont High sophomore Ellie Shea is within an eyelash of becoming the fastest-ever Massachusetts female high schooler to run the indoor mile as the talented athlete set a second national mark in her young career.

After demolishing the record for a freshman in the 5,000 meters outdoors this past June, Shea broke the national indoor mile sophomore record by more than three seconds in 4 minutes, 40,01 seconds at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational held at Boston University. Shea took eight-and-a-half seconds off her previous PB in the mile of 4:48.60 set a few weeks previously. Only nine American high schoolers have broken the 4:40 mark.

In addition to the new mile mark, Shea was timed at the 1500 meters in 4:21.42 which qualifies her to attend the USA Track and Field U20 (under 20) championships and the World U20 Championships in Cali, Columbia this August.

Shea is closing in on the all-time record in the indoor mile by a Massachusetts high schooler held by Lynn Jennings, the three-time World Cross Country champion and Olympic Bronze medalist, who ran a 4:39.0 as a senior in 1978.

Shea will next circle BU’s indoor track on Feb. 27 at the 2022 Boston University Last Chance Meet before deciding whether to finish the season at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in Manhattan or the Nike NSAF Indoor Nationals on Staten Island both on March 11-13.

Last Minute Challenger Makes It A Race For Belmont Select Board Seat

Photo: The Belmont Town Clerk has released the draft ballot for the 2022 town election

A Belmont Center restaurant owner got his nomination papers into the Town Clerk’s Office just under the wire and will make it a race for the Select Board seat at the annual town election in April. Papers were due at the close of business on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

Jeffrey Lasseler, proprietor of Jamaica Jeffs on Leonard Street, is challenging incumbent Roy Epstein for the three year position. In the only other race with an incumbent, Julie Lemay will take on new comer Marina Atlas for a three year post on the Board of Health.

The only other competitive race will be for the pair of two-year seats on the newly-created Municipal Light Board where three residents are in the running: Jeffrey Geibel, Michael Macrea and current Municipal Light Advisory Board member Stephen Klionsky.

The town election will take place on Tuesday, April 5.

A list of town-wide offices for election are:

Due to reprecincting, It will be a literal free-for-all in the election of the newly-constituted Town Meeting. In four precincts, the entire 36-member slate will be on the ballot with the 12 members with the largest vote tally appointed to a three-year seat with the next 12 to two years and those coming in 25-36 taking a one-year term. For voters in precinct 8, voters will have 46 candidates to choose from to fill those 36 seats. The three other precincts whose lines were changed – 1 (42), 2 (40) and 6 (42) – will have 40-plus candidates while Precinct 7 will see its legislative representatives completely change as 20 residents will be running against only 4 incumbents for those 12 seats.

You can see who the candidates for Town Meeting on the Town Clerk’s page here.

Scrappy Tie vs Woburn Leaves Belmont Boys’ Hockey Looking At Another Shared Championship

Photo: Belmont Matty Rowen scored Belmont’s first goal vs Woburn

Despite an undefeated Middlesex League season secured with a come-from-behind 2-2 tie against host Woburn, it currently appears Belmont High Boys’ Ice Hockey will be looking forward to sharing yet another title.

Unlike the 2019-2020 Div. 1, state crown shared with Walpole when all MIAA finals were abruptly canceled at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic shut down that March, the likely sharing of the Middlesex League Liberty title with Arlington is due to what happened on the ice as Belmont finished the final stretch of the league season with a win and two ties seeing a pair of points go wanting.

While Belmont does hold the advantage in head-to-head matches against the SpyPonders (a 2-2 tie at home and a 6-2 whitewashing in Arlington earlier in the week), Arlington is expected to win its final League contests against Winchester and Woburn to finish equal 24 points with the Marauders. It will be Belmont’s first title – albeit with the SpyPonders – since 2003-4 and its third crown in program history.

“We showed up obviously a little bit too late to the game today. We didn’t really didn’t get into it until the third period,” said first-year Head Coach Tim Foley, who praised the Tanners for working “from the opening face-off to the last whistle.”

On paper, it looked like a match the Marauders (13-1-2) could secure the title outright against Woburn sitting at the tail end of the division at 8-4-3 coming into the game. But the Tanners have played well this year, losing three of its games by a goal and rated 17th in the Division 1 power rankings (Belmont is ranked 7th.)

“But like all games in the Middlesex Liberty, it was going to be hard-fought and we didn’t expect anything less,” said As each team in the division are in the top 22 ranked squads in the MIAA power rankings.

After controlling the first four minutes and change, Belmont found itself trailing 1-0 as junior Jackson Powers snapped the puck just to the side of Belmont goalie Ryan Griffith coming against the run of play. Afterward, the Marauders found space along the boards but could not connect with anyone near the crease, The second period began brightly with junior phenom Cam Fici clanging a blast off the crossbar after five minutes and nearly connected a minute later on a power wrap around that brought oohs and aahs from the crowd.

It appeared it was just a matter of time before the Marauders would knot up the contest when during a rush-up ice Powers got his brace as he buried a sitter past with 3:07 left in the period. The last time Belmont has trailed by two this season was in its only loss to Wellesley.

“Today there was a similar vibe in the locker room as we had against Wellesley, we just didn’t have a game mentality,” said Foley. “Maybe they don’t like morning games.”

What Belmont needed was a lifeline which it received early in the third with a power play. With Fici and senior first line Shay Donahue causing chaos in the zone, linemate co-captain Matty Rowen settled on the doorstep of the goal where he reached out to grab a pass and slide the puck off the left post to cut the deficit to one with 11:58 left.

As Woburn turned most of its focus on defending its advantage, Belmont pressed in the Tanners zone to squeeze the defenders and cut off passing lanes. And it would be a breakout that gave Belmont its breakthrough as Fici proved, once again, the junior co-captain is an absolute sniper with the puck on his stick. Coming into the offensive zone cradling the puck with a defender screening him, Fici launched – with one skate on the ice the other two feet off the surface – off of a screamer from beyond the right circle that snuck between Ryder’s stick and right pad and into the net with 6:13 remaining. The goal was Fici’s 32nd of the season.

“Fici being Fici,” as Foley has stated in the past.

The remainder of the third and during the five minutes, four-on-four overtime saw each team played with an abundance of caution, so much so that in OT Woburn sat on the puck behind its goal for 30 seconds with no initiative to break out until Belmont sent a forechecker to entice the action.

With the game settled, Foley said a goal at the beginning of the season was to win the division outright. “But there is no shame in sharing this [with Arlington]. The seniors have a lot to be proud of. I think we are in a good place going into the tournament.”

Belmont will finish the season with the main event matchup as the Marauders host perennial powerhouse Catholic Memorial High from West Roxbury for a battle between top ten programs in the state. The game takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18, if the ballywire and gum holding the Skip together doesn’t come apart.

Benton Library Closed Indefinitely After Chimney Collapse

Photo: The Benton Library after the collapse of its chimney

The Benton Library, the independent community library at the corner of at the corner of Oakley and Old Middlesex Roads, will be closed indefinitely after the building’s chimney suddenly gave way Thursday afternoon, Feb. 10.

“Sadly, this past Thursday, on a beautiful, very calm morning, the Benton Library chimney collapsed,” Elizabeth Gibson, president of the Friends of Benton Library, wrote in an email to patrons. The 130-year-old building originally constructed as a chapel for a private boys’ school became a branch of the Belmont Public Library in 1930 and an independent library in 2011. An extensive history of the building can be found here.

Belmont Police and Fire responded followed by David Blazon, the town’s facilities manager and Kevin Pickering, Belmont Building Inspector, “who have been incredibly helpful.”

Soon after, businessman Frank French and Jim Kelly from Cambridge Landscaping assisted in removing debris and securing the building while Sean Green from Storm Works Roofing patched the roof.

“We don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Gibson.

The previous week, the Friend’s sent emails welcoming people to come back to the Library. “We were very gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response,” she said.

Since the furnace vents into the chimney, the building’s heating and water systems have been shut down, reported Gibson.  

“We are talking to contractors about how to move forward. The Benton Library will need to stay temporarily closed a little longer. We’re not sure how long. At least a few weeks; probably longer,” she wrote. “There’s a lot to figure out about rebuilding the chimney, but we’ll get there.”