When it comes to mask mandates, school districts are truly facing a big dilemma

August 19 – With a lot of local school districts set to send kids back to school very soon, the masking issue is still wobbling in the forefront of people’s minds.

School districts are facing a heck of an obstacle with masks because there are intelligent, passionate arguments on both sides from parents and taxpayers.

Recently, the Waynesboro Area School District canceled some meetings and will have a full school board meeting next Tuesday night – the day before children are scheduled to return to school.

Today is the first day for school in the Greencastle-Antrim School District and other districts will go back between now and next Wednesday. Waynesboro is likely watching all of that very closely.

For now the policy is masks are optional in Waynesboro. Could that change Tuesday night?

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the mask issue this morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Barkdoll said, “I was actually at a school event last night. This is back to school time at schools around the area. There was a lot of open talk about this. I certainly didn’t see a lot of people wearing masks, but you heard a lot of school staff, parents wondering if such a mandate is going to come. I don’t think they’re going to pass it, but as we know it’s being discussed in a lot of circles.”

Barkdoll is also hearing that even though parents and even district administrators are against a mask mandate, there is a lot of concern about financial and legal costs in the face of this. Especially if an insurance carrier says they will not honor claims if the districts are not following state and CDC guidelines.

Barkdoll said, “I think it creates a real dilemma. If you’re sitting on a school board and you’re confronted with that kind of legal and financial information, you can kind of envision the conflict. Is there a middle ground where they ask parents to sign some kind of an indemnity waiver? I don’t know if a school district would do that. I’m not sure how parents would feel about it. This is obviously a very fluid situation right now, not only here locally, but all over the country.”

The superintendent in Greencastle-Antrim had emailed parents yesterday advising them to “listen in” on the school board meetings via their live stream.  

Ryan said, “There’s a lot of listening and I’m more interested in parents stepping up. This is the time for parents to rise up and as taxpayers make your voice heard.”

Barkdoll agreed, “Absolutely. This is prime time. The takeaway if you’re a parent and a taxpayer, this is one of these scenarios that these are not final decisions, so even though most of you are living in districts where it’s optional, this is very subject to change. Week to week. Month to month. It’s important that the boards hear from you if you have a strong opinion about this, tune into the meetings, make your comments known at the meeting. What’s interesting about this, we’re going to know an answer to this over the next two to three weeks. If these schools reopen and things go great and we all hope and pray they do, this issue largely goes away. If it’s a mask-optional situation and everything goes fine these first few weeks, I think it’s going to fade away. On the other hand, if these schools open and you start getting reports of COVID outbreaks within those buildings, I think you’ll see an emergency meeting called where, among other things, they may say we are implementing a mask mandate. Whether that’s the solution to the problem or not is very debatable, of course, but I think you could see those kind of scenarios occur over the next two to three weeks depending on how the reopening process goes.”

Jansen added, “We have the teachers unions now pressuring the schools to do mask mandates. Let’s be honest here, we have passionate parents on both sides. I will throw some shade and sympathy to the superintendents and the admin trying to deal with this situation because they’re getting passionate pleas from parents on both sides of let’s have a mask mandate, let’s not have a mask mandate. They also have the teachers who seem to be mostly in favor of the mask mandate. Although I do agree with some of the arguments, why don’t we put the burden on the adults and not the children? I also wish people would realize there’s legitimate concerns on both sides. Stop demonizing each other.”

The CDC is using a study of information out of Georgia to try to prove their point that masks work, but the Journal of the American Medical Association is using the exact same information saying that while there’s a percentage showing it’s maybe a little bit better, it’s statistically insignificant.

So the same data is being used to make the argument on both sides.

Jansen said, “There is risks to children wearing masks all the times in terms of education, mental health, maybe even some physical health problems as we’ve noted in certain situations, so come on, please, let’s stop it. Stop demonizing each other. People are trying to make the best decision. This is not easy. This is not easy, but parents do need to make their positions known.”

Barkdoll said, “Really well said. And I think as you’re pointing out there’s conflicting studies almost every day on this issue.”

Johns Hopkins had a study last week saying masks are not only ineffective, but they could be causing problems with kids and on the same day, a study of over a million kids is saying masks are the most effective tool out there to prevent COVID spread in classrooms.

Barkdoll pointed out, “It’s hard to reconcile. People have opinions and things to back up their opinions on both sides of this argument and then when I think you put this layer on top of it of potential legal and financial issues, it is a real dilemma for a school board and a school administration, especially if they think that they could have some financial exposure to this.”

Ryan added, “And then you listen to Joe Biden yesterday who is desperately trying to get anything to get away from his mess and tragedy that is Afghanistan.”

Biden said, “I’m directing the secretary of education, an educator himself, to take conditional steps to protect our children. This includes using all of his oversights authorities and legal action, if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block and intimidate local school officials and educators.”

Ryan said, “Talk about intimidation.”

Jansen said, “Using the pen and the phone in outlandish ways I believe yesterday. Again, taking a one-sided position. Even though that study of a million says it’s the most effective way to prevent COVID, we aren’t looking at the risks to children for wearing masks. That may actually be true, but maybe the risks to children are greater. They’re hurting their education, hurting their mental health, hurting them in maybe other physical ways. No one ever seems to do a real risk/benefit analysis of that and that really bothers me and Biden coming in on one side, demonizing one side, that’s wrong of the president of the United States to do.”

Ryan said, “Frankly I’ve seen some of the mask hysteria from people walking around downtown Chambersburg with nobody around, I’m in the fresh air and a mask on. Clearly people that have some of these masks on have already had some mental compromise.”

“Yes,” Barkdoll said, “Or the people alone in their car with masks on. I’ve seen people riding a bike or jogging with a mask on.”

Ryan added, “Or pulling the mask down to have a smoke. You morons!”

Barkdoll chuckled, “My favorite was the one I believe it was last fall I saw a lady in the grocery store that had the mask with the flap in the front where she could smoke a cigarette through the flap while she had her mask on.”

An interesting caveat in Biden’s speech yesterday, he said that the federal government would withhold all Medicare and Medicaid funding to nursing homes unless they get 100 percent of their staff vaccinated. There isn’t a nursing home in America that isn’t receiving Medicare or Medicaid funding.

Barkdoll said, “This is sort of a backdoor way to force over a million nursing home workers to get vaccinated because no home is going to take the risk of not getting their funding. Now what does this have to do with schools? When I heard that yesterday, the thought occurred to me, what if a similar announcement got made that we are going to withhold all federal funding to school districts? There is federal money that trickles into school districts.”

What if that funding is withheld unless the staff is vaccinated? What if that funding is withheld unless there is a mask mandate?

Barkdoll continued, “This is effectively a way that they could do this without legislation. These are sort of backdoor approaches to getting to the goal they want. They have not made that announcement on education. This is just me speculating, but every day it seems like you’re seeing these kind of initiatives rolled out that are effectively getting into the realm of some kind of a mandate either on vaccinations or masks.”