Uproar at North Penn School Board meeting over possible mask requirements

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Julia Nardone

Board meets in Penndale’s auditorium to discuss masking this fall

At the August work session meeting, the North Penn School Board faced a very tumultuous crowd in Penndale’s auditorium to discuss the topic of mask wearing for students this fall. 

During the first public comment, many irate parents and community members voiced their objections to the possibility of mandatory masks in schools this fall.

“It’s not just a mask,” Parent Lucy Stoll said, expressing her concerns about her child’s learning gap because of mask wearing. This is a concern of many parents who worry that their children will not be able to learn as well without seeing or hearing their teacher’s mouths. “We cannot continue to make the mitigation efforts an issue that is actually bigger than the virus.”

Other parents were on board with having masks be mandatory, especially with the Delta variant spreading across the country making unvaccinated individuals at risk.

“I understand that the data is constantly changing and we have to look at that data at the local level,” parent Beth Staab said. “Doing nothing is not an option and we have to do whatever we can to put something in place to protect our kids. So if it’s a mask it should be a mask, it’s a piece of cloth. Is it perfect? No, but it’s something.” 

During the Board’s discussion, a slideshow was presented by Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich. In the presentation, guidance from the Montgomery Office of Public health, the AAPA, and the CDC were shown from the last couple of weeks. 

The current Health and Safety Plan states that masks will be optional for both secondary and elementary students at the beginning of the year, yet for elementary students, may be changed because they cannot be vaccinated.

According to the Health and Safety plan regarding mask wearing,

 

“If the incidence rate goes above 20 cases per 100,000 and the positivity rate is over 5% in the county, the Board commits to revisiting whether or not masks will remain optional.”

 

“It is my strong hope that we are able to open school in person for all 5 days,” Dietrich said. “There is a lot of discussion about the need to have children in school, in person, and there’s no talk at this juncture going to a hybrid model.”

The Board made clear that in person learning would not be removed as an option for anyone, just that masking may need to be enforced at certain times when the virus is worst. 

“In terms of the authority of the district the public school code, as amended, authorizes a board of school directors to adopt such reasonable rules and regulations as the board of directors deem necessary for the operation of the school system,” Solicitor Kyle Somers explained the legality of how a school board could enforce mask wearing if needed.

“If a student is in violation of a school rule, we would have the latitude to assign the student to a different learning option, mainly a virtual learning option if they chose to violate a school rule,” Dietrich said on the consequences for a student who may not want to wear a mask in the event masking is necessary. 

“The reason we are reconsidering this is because the guidance has changed,” ”

— Board Vice President Christian Fusco

“The reason we are reconsidering this is because the guidance has changed,” Board Vice President Christian Fusco added, explaining the reasoning behind the Board’s decision to discuss making masks optional at the elementary level.

In terms of quarantining for students, which has become another important discussion point, the Health and Safety Plan states,

 

“In the event that a student is ordered to quarantine by the district or local health officials, classroom teachers will utilize the streaming technology in the classroom so that the student can listen to instruction throughout the day.”

 

“If a student was quarantined, live streaming would be available to them” ”

— Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich

“If a student was quarantined, live streaming would be available to them,” Dietrich said, going on to explain that it would not be like the hybrid model where a back and forth conversation could be had, but more to listen in on the lesson.

Towards the end of the Board’s discussion, loud objections broke out from the crowd towards board members. This is against the rules of a Board meeting, as community members are to wait until the audience of citizens to voice their opinions to the Board.

At one point, an angry community member shouted that having some kids wear masks and not others would be “segregation” and to “give them a gold star”. At other times, the volume of the shouting would grow so loud that the board members could not hear each other(click this link to the live stream on YouTube to see more)

This behavior only continued as the meeting drew to a  close. During the second audience of citizens, only two people had the opportunity to step up to the podium before chaos broke out between multiple members of the audience. 

The meeting was adjourned quickly after that with all of the Board members exiting the auditorium. The police arrived not long after the end of the meeting.

At the next meeting, the Board will vote on whether masking will be mandatory among elementary students for the beginning of the school year. It will take place August 19 at 7:00 p.m. in the Penndale Auditorium.