Keystone School Delays Enforcement of Mask Mandate Until October 18
KNOX, Pa. (EYT) – All members of the Keystone School Board and Administration seated on the school auditorium stage were wearing masks on Monday night at a special meeting concerning the Pennsylvania Department of Health Facial Covering Order.
(This young mother pictured above accompanied by her family asked Keystone Acting Superintendent Michael McCormick, why he didn’t wear a mask outside near a local restaurant. Mr. McCormick replied that masks are not mandated outside of school.)
Most of the audience of approximately 150 were not wearing masks and voiced their disagreement with the mask requirement for the students. Parents aired their strong opinions, many of whom talked at a recent school board meeting.
At the close of the nearly two-hour meeting, the board approved the approach of the Keystone School District towards the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s August 31, 2021 Facial Covering Order and would be enforced starting October 18, unless Senate Bill 846 is enacted before that date.
The Republican-authored bill would allow “a parent or legal guardian of a child of school-age to opt-out from wearing a face-covering or mask which the child’s school imposes as a result of a recommendation or mandate from the secretary of health or a local board or department of health.”
Voting against the motion were John R. Slagle, President, Dustin Swartfager, and Dwayne Van Tassel.
Voting for the motion were Greg Barrett, James A. Beary, Trisha Dixon, Randy Burr, Stacey Thompson, and Kenneth L. Swartfager.
There is still a question if Governor Wolf will veto such a bill.
Swartfager explained to the crowd that the Public School Code of 1949 requires school board members to do everything possible to protect students from communicable diseases – or face serious personal consequences such as loss of state licenses used for schools and certain businesses. Local action was not taken in 1949 to appeal the code.
SB846 states “The act of March 10, 1949 (P.L.30, No.14), known as the Public School Code of 1949, is amended by adding a section to read:
“Section 1419.1. Face Covering or Mask Mandate Opt-Out. A parent or legal guardian of a child of school age may opt-out the child from wearing a face-covering or mask, which the child’s school imposes as a result of a recommendation or mandate from the Secretary of Health or a local board or department of health, that is primarily responsible for the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable disease, including disease control in public and private schools.”
Swartfager cautioned the crowd that the school board is not the problem, and it is a legislative problem that needs to be corrected. He said that each member of the school board has also done their own research and spent considerable time reviewing the situation.
He urged the crowd to contact State Representative Donna Oberlander and State Senator Scott Hutchinson regarding the legislation. Hutchinson is one of the state senators who introduced the bill.
Dana Sloat Questions School Board on Mask Mandate
School Board Member Ken Swartfager responded as follows:
“The 1949 requirements include all employers to judges, nurses, any practitioner, any institution that as a licensed to be in business, whether it’s taking care of our elderly, taking care of special needs, children are in jeopardy with the person in charge. They must do everything in their power to stop the spread of communicable diseases.
“I agree with everything said here today, but this school board is asked to take care of your children, all the children that want to wear masks in school, the 700 other students whose parents weren’t here tonight, because either way, they want their children to be in this school because of the education, because of everything that happens here.
“If you look into the law, any person who doesn’t do everything in their power, sitting in this room right now and on this board, if we don’t do everything in our power to stop the spread of disease –specific people in this room either have a license or any paperwork that allows you to conduct business through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Before the meeting, Keystone Acting Superintendent Mike McCormick told exploreClarion.com that the district has had a total of 33 positive cases and does not have more than 20 excuses from doctors.
Below are excerpts from community members’ statements to the school board:
Jason Say: Masks could mean many students leaving Keystone for Cyber School.
“We’re here tonight to talk about mass mandates and going forward. I think we know that this is a much bigger thing than mask mandates. We’re here at it already. We’ve been scraping it for a while. You know vaccine mandates coming down the road, and the way we look at it is we look at it in different ways. I think a lot of people look at our group as trying to shut the school down. I couldn’t disagree more.
“I love my school district. I love it. I’m doing what I now believe. This is the only way that we’re going to keep the school district. When vaccine comes, you’re going to lose kids by the hundreds. And, what’s the school going to do?
“If we can’t stand up now. What’s it going to take? Where is the line? We don’t know where the line is for you, or is it always going to be what’s best for Harrisburg and Governor Wolf and to heck with the kids and the parents?
“That’s what it feels like to those parents right now – that it feels like our voice doesn’t matter.
“We reviewed the mandate, and there are many schools across the state, and down the road, Butler, Slippery Rock, Warren, and C-L are all reading the mandate for what it is, and their kids are not wearing masks. We’re going to ask you to do the same.
“We don’t want to go the legal route, but my lawyer has stressed to us that (we have) a very good case based on what the mandate says. If we send our kids to school without a mask or they are segregated, separated, or discriminated, and not educated in any way, we will see it in court.
“We’ve talked about the cyber school route, and I think you’re all aware of that. I think my number one concern would be about kids walking off. I think it would be keeping the kids in the school.
“I got to learn a lot about cyber schools and how they work. And, it is in no way beneficial to the public school system. That’s for sure. But, I am going to make perfectly clear going forward. If it doesn’t go this way, I’m going to educate every single parent what their choices are.
“I think a lot of times there’s a lot of misperceptions in how those things work and it would be no doubt in my mind, within the first week, you’ll see a hundred kids walk. When the vaccine mandate comes down, you’re looking at 300, 400, 500 kids and I’m not exaggerating. I think that’s how many kids would walk out of the school. And at that point in time, what are you going to do?”
Abigail Simcheck: Flu is the next big thing.
“A Philadelphia newspaper story was cited that here’s this concept of immunity, but we’ve been exposed to these viruses for going on two years. So, they are at home, and it makes it easier to spread. This is coming from one of the best pediatric hospitals in the country. He said the flu is much worse than COVID for kids.
This is an outbreak that happens every year, and I hope it’s not going anywhere, but we have to deal with it. We don’t match every single illness that comes through our school, and there’s no quality of air standard in PA for schools where the flu weather, RSB, meningitis, asthma allergies, or any other kinds of airborne. So, why should COVID be any different?
“I’m concerned that you’re going to see in the next few months with flu, it could be nastier than RSB or COVID, and they’re telling you don’t get COVID. That means to get the flu shot. That’s what the kids have to worry about. Another pandemic-related surge in pediatric hospitals, for adolescents and younger children, as was pointed out from the speaker before me, for struggling with severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, a few places to go inpatient treatment.
“What information have we received from the government and from the CDC, from the FDA, or from any government agency, including the media? They have all let us slip. We can’t make an informed decision, but we can protect our rights.”
Although most of the Monday night speakers were against the masking requirements, there was some support of the Department of Health’s mask mandate.
Michelle Kahl: A mask is not abuse
“I have two daughters, junior, senior high school. I appreciate the work you’ve done thus far, especially at a time where we are seeing changes and challenges. And, I know as a mom, as a wife, as a business owner, as a community member, as someone who deeply cares about the kids in our community, as someone who has had COVID, and someone who would choose to wear a mask this evening and protect against the infection of others. My daughters were contacted by school three times in three weeks as they were done by just having had close contact with COVID most recently, one of my daughters also tested positive for COVID tonight.
“I’m also wearing this mask to protect all of you. Although I know that my family is not currently positive or showing symptoms – as a mom is very scary hearing that your child was exposed to someone who was, however, it is even scarier.
“Seeing your child sick with the virus was also very scary. Last year seeing my husband sick from the virus as his temperature at the time was at one point unmanageable. There was a time that I questioned if he needed to go to the hospital. I was worried that if he did, if I were to ever see him again, my husband has since recovered, not without problems. As in January, he suffered a Tia, otherwise known as a ministroke, which is something that the doctors have told us that they are seeing as a side effect from COVID as a business owner, I can tell you that the two months that I was personally recovering from COVID was also very scary because I was worried that I would lose the vision, but I worked so hard to establish.
“The only thing I can personally correlate this to is a decrease in wearing masks.
“According to the CDC and other experts in the field, the masks offer a barrier from the respiratory droplets, the traveler through the hair and wearing a mask will be central and reduction of the transmission of COVID-19 and the Delta variant for the CDC as a report from this product, the CCL. So, (it is) especially important to wear a mask when you are indoors.
“As someone who works as a licensed counselor and a certified clinical trauma professional, I work mostly with survivors of abuse. Let me say the word. A mask is not abuse. According to the federal child abuse prevention and treatment act, the definition of abuse and neglect is as follows – And this is at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of the parent or caretaker, which results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse starts with the patient, or an accurate failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
“Wearing a mask may be an inconvenience. It may be uncomfortable. Their friends pose some challenges, and yes, maybe it’s even a little bit here, but this has been proven with testing and falling of the national health fair that wearing a simple two-layer barrier. And, it does reduce the rate of transmission.”
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