It’s back-and-forth with mask mandates in school districts

August 18 – With the school year set to begin in some districts in the next few days, the mask mandate issue has seen a lot of back-and-forth from school boards.

Districts that had said a few weeks ago they would not mandate masks have changed their minds.

So it’s really still up in the air as to what students will see when school begins.

A bill in the State Senate could help parents with masks, but it will have to get past the governor first.

State Senator Judy Ward, attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed masks for students this morning on First News.

To begin, the Chambersburg Area School Board last night has decided to limit attendance of board meetings to 20 people.

Chairs are separated at the meeting.

Ryan wondered, “Can we please put on our big boy pants and for the taxpayers, the people that you work on behalf of? You can’t limit meetings like this, or can you at this point? The finger-wagging and the arrogance is rearing its ugly head in a pretty big way here in Chambersburg.”

Barkdoll hasn’t heard of any crowd capacity limits being implemented locally. He said, “So it’s curious to me that they have reinstated that kind of restriction. The question is do they have the right to do it? I suppose they have the right to do it. I think the question to them would be what’s the justification at this point? What has happened suddenly that they’re doing that again?”

If the answer is Franklin County being in the red zone from the CDC, those recommendations aren’t really squared or targeted to capacity limits like they were last year.

Jansen said, “I’m trying to see anywhere on the website where it says that, but I’m not seeing it.”

Ryan noted this is “one to watch here for you. As a taxpayer in the Chambersburg School District, the wagging of the fingers and they know better than you is something that is of great concern to all of us that are dialed into the radio station…Having a teacher or educators on a school board doesn’t necessarily work in the benefit of the taxpayer. So this school board member and whose wife also works in the school system in another school district, put forth a mask idea?”

Jansen explained, “Remember Shippensburg just got in trouble because they voted on a non-agenda meeting. That’s really what fired people up. I looked at the agenda yesterday and okay, there’s nothing on that and then we get there and we sit down and Kevin Mintz has a motion—“

“Kevin Mintz is the vice president, heir apparent to being the president,” Ryan said.

Jansen continued, “Wanted to add the Health and Safety Plan to the agenda. Health and Safety Plan is where you decide whether or not there’s going to be masks or not. From the conversations that went between members afterwards, it was pretty obvious that’s exactly what he was aiming for – to make a change to the masking.”

Mintz is a teacher in Washington County, Md., where the district very recently went to mandatory masking.

Jansen said, “With what just happened in Shippensburg, I’m kind of surprised he would have gone there.”

“Don’t be,” Ryan said. “It’s the finger-wagging. Come on. You shouldn’t be surprised at all this. They know better. How about what is happening with these school boards?”

Barkdoll said, “What I think is happening, remember there’s that new law that goes into effect in two weeks where they cannot do anything in a meeting unless it’s been properly placed on an agenda at least 24 hours in advance and posted somewhere for the public to see it and I think what you’re seeing happening, they’re just bringing up things impromptu that maybe were not on the agenda. The agenda certainly wasn’t circulated with that item on it, seeing if there may be support to get it passed in advance of the school year. That will all change in two weeks because everyone’s going to have to start seeing what it is they intend to vote on and if it’s not on the agenda, they can’t take action on it. Boards could still call an emergency meeting, they are still able to act on this before schools would officially open.”

Rumblings at other school districts are out there about mask mandates. Washington County schools said a few weeks ago there will be no mask mandates, but now they changed their minds.

Barkdoll said, “Just because they said no, there’s scenarios where they could change their mind between now and when school starts.”

Jansen pointed out, “Fortunately he was voted down and I think that was a good call by the rest of the members because we saw what happened in Shippensburg. There were several people in the audience who did get up and speak against mask mandates. Talking very cogently, I thought, giving some reasonable reasons why, risk versus benefit. I think that’s the whole argument that’s missing in all of this. We keep asking like masks are some kind of panacea when we know the studies are not there to prove that. I thought people brought up very reasonable arguments saying let my family make the choice when it comes to this because there are detrimental effects when it comes to wearing masks as well. This is going to be an interesting situation in the next few weeks. Hopefully this variant is going to move quickly out of the system. I’ve seen some reports showing that could happen.”

Barkdoll said, “Regardless of what your school district is doing, it appears that masks will be required on busing, back and forth to school. As a matter of fact, you saw yesterday from the federal level, they’ve extended the mask mandate on airplanes, buses, trains, any kind of public transportation through at least January.”

So even if the school doesn’t require masks in the buildings, children will still need to wear them on buses.

State Senator Judy Ward and State Senator Doug Mastriano have legislation pending that would help parents with mask mandates.

Ward explained it’s “a bill that would allow parents to opt out of any mask mandates by schools. We strongly feel that parents know what’s best for their child. These students would not be able to be segregated at all from other students. This has been an issue for parents. We’ve heard this for the last probably three weeks, nonstop. Parents don’t want the mask for their children. There’s really no research to go to to determine is mask wearing all day for a young child, is that safe? Is it not safe? Parents really want that option.”

Since the bill came out, Ward has been getting calls from all over the state expressing support.

Ward said, “Unfortunately it goes to the governor’s desk and we most likely know what he’s going to do with the bill, so I’m frustrated. Doesn’t mean we’re not going to pursue it because we are, but I think the likelihood of the governor signing it are probably slim, but we’re out to make it happen. We’ll see.”

Jansen noted, “Even if he does end up vetoing it, I think it’s important to get the legislation out there. I think it’s important to see the way other legislators vote on this legislation.”

Ryan asked, “Will that be transparent? Will we be able to see who is in for this and who is not?”

“Absolutely,” Ward assured. “If there’s a vote taken all our votes are made public. Parents love legislation. I was with a group of superintendents last week. They really like the legislation because it takes the liability from the school district. That’s another issue that I think we’ve got to deal with this legislative session is to get some liability protection for our schools, our nursing homes, our businesses, who have done the best they could to protect people. Lawsuits are starting to pop up.”

Ryan said, “You’re never going to see any kind of protection out of the federal government. They’re so happy that this stuff is here because lawyers will make bank. And who’s running the show? Lawyers are running the show. Why would lawyers want to have this protective stuff in here when they’re helping out their fellow lawyers?”

Jansen added, “Plus it helps to keep things unsteady and uncertain. Unfortunately you would think if anyone really cares about the country, they would be of your mindset, we need to get this liability protection. This virus, I don’t care if you do every mitigation factor in the world, you’re still going to have spread and transmission. We don’t even have proof that some of the stuff like mask wearing is actually doing much and in fact, it can give people overconfidence and allow things to spread when we could be doing other more effective things.”

Ryan asked, “How about the two mask mandate in Philadelphia? It’s dumb and then it’s dumber in Philadelphia.”

Ward said, “You can always kind of tell what you’re up against when you’re outside and people are wearing two masks when they come to say hello to you. You think, oh boy, you know what you’re up against right there.”