This is a very critical week for school board meetings

August 13 – With a few local school districts returning to school this week and most of them back next week, upcoming school board meetings are going to be quite significant.

The meetings will be deciding mask wearing and maybe even some virtual days for school that might be baked into the fall and winter calendar.

As an example, Shippensburg Area School District will hold a special meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in the High School Auditorium to focus on masks for children during the upcoming school year.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the temperature for school board meetings this morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Barkdoll said, “This mask debate is playing out all over the country. You’re seeing courts get involved in different states that are weighing in on whether you can mandate masks or whether you can ban mask wearing.”

The meeting in Shippensburg should be interesting. They indicated that they were looking at mandating masks a week ago and then they rescinded that vote and tonight will likely be the final decision.

Barkdoll said, “As far as I know all of our other local districts at least for now are saying masks are optional. I’m not aware of any other local district that is mandating a mask for return to school.”

Jansen pointed out, “People have to pay attention to this idea. Of course we still have the idea of critical social justice swimming around. There’s going to be a Chambersburg Area School District meeting and I will once again go and ask for a public forum because something that happened last time has convinced me, three-minute talk at the end of the meeting about this? Nobody’s listening to each other and it was pretty obvious by comments made by one of the school board members there and then talking to people, they’ve admitted, no we don’t really listen. A lot of us. On all sides. I’m talking about people sitting in the audience, I’m talking about other people that are there, the school board. It’s just not a good time to have any real conversation and then you have to bring overwhelming people to get any attention.”

Barkdoll said, “The problem with so many of these issues, there truly is conflicting research. Last week on the same day, you had the doctors and professors from Johns Hopkins come out and say that they think wearing masks are dangerous and they cited all these reasons why masks for children may be a health hazard. On the same day, you had this huge study of over a million kids in North Carolina come out talking about how masks were the safest thing they could do to prevent COVID and prevent the spread of airborne illnesses. You have conflicting information, people on each side are able to cite research that backs up their position, but my take-away from that is there is no consensus on it. I think in the absence of solid consensus, solid research that’s saying one hundred percent, here’s what it is, it’s hard for a board to justify and mandate when that’s the kind of information we have that’s out there.”

Kristy Wells Wagner, a taxpayer and parent, from Shippensburg School District was interviewed this weekend on Political Vibe.  

Ryan though she “did a very good job in saying you’re right, we’ve got a handful of finger wagging arrogant and downright rude, obnoxious school board members who think they know better just because they’ve consumed a page or two out of some journal and you could hear the frustration. Hey, I’m a taxpayer, damn it. You work for me. You work at the pleasure of my vote here. Why aren’t you listening to the masses who put you in the place in the first place? You’re that much more of a genius?”

Barkdoll agreed, “I thought she was great. Not only a taxpayer, but a mother of children in that district, very invested in what should be happening. I thought she did a really good job at supporting her position and you could clearly hear her frustration at the way at least one, if not two board members, have reacted towards her. Comments and emails that they’ve sent to her that really just seemed inappropriate, out-of-bounds, condescending. She’s the one that’s in the trenches. She’s the taxpayer. She’s the mother. And I think she’s speaking on behalf of a lot of other taxpayers and parents that are attending these meetings, demanding to be heard. These are elected representatives, these school board members. They should be doing what reflects the wishes of the constituents. We recognize they of course have a fiduciary duty to a school district to exercise prudence in the way they’re making decisions as well, but to just dismiss these people that are coming in as uninformed or not knowing what they’re doing just seems ridiculous and I hope those school board members pay a political price if they decide to run for reelection.”

Jansen said, “We see this trend everywhere, don’t we? These elected officials who somehow think, well, I know what’s best. We’re all in this together and we elected you to represent us. You can’t just ignore us after you take that position and say you know best. At least acknowledge us, especially when there’s conflicting experts on things like the mask wearing. Why can’t we have a sane, reasonable, adult dialogue about that?”

Ryan suggested, “They’ve sat around for so long having a free reign and all of a sudden, someone calls into question. And how dare you question me? Then comes the condescending and why do I need an educator or a teacher on a school board? It’s an alcoholic working at a bar, owning a bar. It’s ridiculous here. And seeing a parent like Kristy Wells Wagner and hearing her fight for her kids as a taxpayer against the very people that were elected to that office.”

Barkdoll said, “If these board members are going to be fair about it, they need to be pointing out that there’s very conflicting research on this. Let’s bring up the Johns Hopkins study tonight. Those parents should source that story. There was a big write up on that, an op-ed piece in last week’s Wall Street Journal. I acknowledge there’s another study out of North Carolina the same day that’s totally the opposite. I think those are the kind of discussions these boards need to be having in the context of there is not a clear answer. For them just to come in and say well this is overwhelming evidence, we must mandate this, that simply is not true.”