CLEARFIELD – Some area residents and parents of Clearfield school children have serious concerns over the district starting a new school year on Wednesday without a mask mandate.
And they took those COVID-related concerns to the monthly school board meeting Monday night and spoke up during the public comment period.
Resident Christy Fulton said the district’s current health and safety plan, dated July 26, doesn’t specifically adhere to new guidelines recommended by the CDC for universal masking indoors, K-12.
She said Superintendent Terry Struble previously indicated the plan would be updated, when necessary, but so far, no update has been made available to the public.
“I come before the school board, assuming you’re all educated and have all done your homework,” Fulton said. “The Delta Variant is much different than the virus was last year.
“It affects children more aggressively. It’s for the safety of children that adults aren’t negligent and adhere to guidelines set forth by the (state) Departments of Health and Education and CDC.”
She said children living in rural and poor areas are disproportionately affected by COVID and 50 percent of the district’s student population are at or below the poverty line.
“Health-equity considerations are a very critical part of decision-making,” Fulton said, adding she’s heard the administration say the majority of people don’t want a mask mandate.
“Well, the majority of people don’t really matter when it comes to public safety. We don’t let them choose because it’s the rule, because it’s for public safety.”
Parent Rachel Kester said CDC data shows the county has a high COVID transmission rate, and upon review of the district’s health and safety plan, she doesn’t feel it’s enough to protect students.
“The most important thing we can do is to keep the kids safely in school,” she said, adding every week she’s watched for the district to update its safety plan to include a mask mandate.
Kester asked what it would take to trigger the district to update its plan, if it hasn’t yet when the county is already in high transmission.
“And, if we’re not requiring masks to start school, what’s the justification for that decision?” Kester asked. “… What other health and safety measures will be in place?
“The health and safety plan is very vague. It’s all ‘if we can,’ ‘as we can’ or ‘we may.’ How will you keep my son safe? I can send him to school with a mask.
“But he’ll have to eat lunch in a packed cafeteria. So, even if parents wish for their kids to be masked, how will you keep them safe during those times when they have to remove their masks?
“These are just some of my concerns and I know there are conflicting opinions, but this isn’t an opinion. This is data, this is science and we listen to experts, and it all points to masks.”
Parent Nicole Yannie said the district is going to reopen with a high transmission rate, no mask mandate and no vaccine requirement for teachers.
“There’s little hope for my child – or others – who may end up sick, or worse,” she said. “As a parent, it’s my job to protect my child from preventable harm.
“Scientific data shows that vaccines, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing are effective methods to prevent the spread of COVID.
“And, while no method is 100 percent effective, they still lower the rate of transmission and that’s not an opinion, that’s a demonstratable fact.
“If I do everything I can to keep my child safe but have to send them into a situation where others are careless or indifferent, I can no longer protect my child.”
Yannie said if the adults around school children were vaccinated and everyone wore masks particularly when confined to a classroom, children would be far less at risk of illness.
“I would like to think you’d do everything in your power to keep the kids safe,” she said. “If you open the district with no mask mandate, we will have sick children.
“I have to put my child’s life in your hands, and you’re worried about a mask. It’s a tiny piece of fabric and my child’s life is worth more than that. Please protect our children – require masks.”
Struble said they will encourage mask wearing to try to reduce COVID’s impact on its school community and if impacted, they will work collaboratively with the DOH on targeted mitigation.
“Our goal is not to say an entire school has to close or go virtual, if, for example, the concern is just in the first grade,” he said, adding they closely monitor daily and weekly data reports.
Struble said if the district would see signs of an outbreak, it would make adjustments based on its pandemic experience thus far, recommendations or mandates from the DOH, etc.
“Our goal is to have every student here every day as much as possible,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to A/B [alternating days]. We don’t want to do more virtual than we need to.”