CLEARFIELD – Parents had a very clear message to the Clearfield Area School Board of Directors on Monday night: stand up for and unmask our children.
Board Vice President Greg Clarke told members of the public that anyone who wished to speak would be limited to five minutes, and that there would be no debate, argument or discussion.
The district’s administration and school board started the new school year off Aug. 25 with face masks/coverings as optional but encouraged.
It soon reversed course with Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Health, which on Aug. 31, mandated all students, staff and visitors wear masks in school buildings, beginning Sept. 7.
The state mandate requires all staff, students and visitors to mask up to enter schools – both public and private – as well as childcare and early-learning centers.
Resident Christy Fulton was the first to speak and said on the first day of school, some parents noticed masks weren’t being worn on buses and this went against the district’s health and safety plan.
She said the district had previously indicated it intended to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate for school buses.
“So, this violated not only your health and safety plan, but also the CDC federal mandate,” Fulton said, and it was her understanding it was being done because the CDC had no prosecutorial power.
“This is problematic for several reasons. You’re a government entity; you follow the government mandates, rules and regulations – whatever they may be.
“Your health and safety plan was voted on. It was board-approved. Any changes to policy for mask wearing on buses, any changes to the health and safety plan need public notice and board approval.”
She alleged the district had three civil rights violations because Superintendent Terry Struble guided staff and the transportation department to ignore this CDC mandate.
At the five-minute mark, some parents at the back of the auditorium interrupted and called out: “It’s five minutes,” “your time is up” and “sit down.”
Fulton responded by saying some comments being made were defamatory, it wasn’t fair and she was trying to keep the district from violating the civil rights of every child.
Clarke stopped public comment and requested one parent specifically to cease interruption of the meeting, and that if she wished to speak that she would be acknowledged separately.
He warned that if she couldn’t obey meeting procedure that he would have police officers remove her from the meeting. Fulton left immediately following her public comment.
Parent Taylor Thomas said his family wasn’t “anti-mask people” or “anti-medical,” but that his concern was mainly over “preservation of choice” as a family and individuals.
“The order given by Gov. Wolf is an illegal order to be quite frank,” Thomas said, adding that it goes against legislation that was specifically put in place to limit his emergency powers.
“It’s supposed to be for a specified amount of time … and the Department of Health – in terms of a pandemic – is only supposed to address those who are ill, not those who are well.”
Thomas said the order says nothing about the necessity of a doctor’s order, medical documentation and disability for exemption, yet it’s being required by the district.
“It seems our children are being forced to mask based on an illegal mandate by the governor,” he said. “My understanding right now is the only consequence is a citation.
“There may be a $300 fine with that, and I’d gladly pay that $300 myself, if there’s a fine, for people to have the right to choose to wear or not to wear a mask. People should have that freedom.”
Parent Johnny Scott concurred, saying it was time to “push back” against the government, because it was unhealthy – especially emotionally – for children to wear a mask.
“You have to know that in your heart,” he said. “I was a U.S. Marine. I served my country then, and now I have to serve my children and let their voices be heard.
“It’s not that we’re anti-mask. It’s not that we’re anti-vax, but we have to draw the line somewhere, or we have no freedom for our choices and these are our choices as parents.”
Parent Connie Mason said children are inhaling their own toxins that should be going into the “God-given air that He gave us to breathe – freely.”
She went on to say that children are not only breathing in toxins while masking all day, but some are probably also wearing the same mask for a week on end to school.
“Last year, it started with one month to flatten the curve. It’s been going on almost two years now and our children are still masked. God didn’t intend for them to breathe a mask.”
Parent Erin Warrick said parents have the right to decide how to parent their children because they know their children best and the district has far more concerned parents than those present.
She said her five-year-old has repeatedly come home, saying she’s being instructed that a mask will keep you healthy and you must wear one to stay safe. “That’s simply untrue.”
Warrick said because her child is a “rule follower,” she has been following the school mask mandate and wearing one for a little over eight hours daily, five days a week.
“She’s been coming home congested with a runny nose and even though I wash her masks every night, this continues.” Warrick has kept her daughter home three days since the start of the mandate.
“I cannot in good faith send her wearing a face mask when she cannot breathe. If this continues, she will use up all of her allotted absences by Christmas.
“I cannot tell you the number of parents I’ve talked to who have run into the same issues. Children are coming home with headaches, runny noses and asthma attacks.
“These children who were once excited to go back to school and to see their friends are now having anxiety and depression.” Warrick has watched other districts around Pennsylvania.
“They have worked with parents and provided them with options or waivers. I kindly ask that you work with us, and let us have a choice for our children.
“… We do. We know what’s best for our children, not the government, not the governor or the appointed Department of Health chair.”
Two parents Sam Muchmore and Julia Selfridge also spoke about what happened to their children when they chose not to wear a mask to school.
Both said their children were segregated and refused an education. Selfridge said her son who loves school and his teachers is now in cyber school because she had to stand up for his rights.
“My two girls who are still in school are afraid to stand up for their rights because they saw what their brother went through. They don’t want to be segregated.”
Parent Alexis Wriglesworth gave some of her time to allow Muchmore more time to conduct an air quality demonstration underneath his mask, which returned an unhealthy reading.
She expressed disgust with the bullying from the state level, and encouraged the district to seek another legal opinion, if their solicitor doesn’t support giving parents options.
Parent Corey Warrick said parents weren’t intentionally trying to make masking political but the fact is: “It is.” He called the school mask mandate a government overreach.
But, as a school board, he said members have the power to change that. “We’re coming to you …. and asking – no we are demanding – that you do something.”
Parent Taylor Smolko told the board it wouldn’t be the first or only district to make exemptions or offer waivers. “Red Bank Valley did. Coudersport did. Harmony did.”
Employee/Parent Janette Peacock said as an employee, she has the choice to work for the district and so she has certain rules to follow including wearing a mask.
But, so far as her children, she believed she – as the parent – should be making that decision and suggested the district consider having parents sign release or waiver forms.
School Board Candidate Kate Wood offered her support to parents. She urged parents, teachers and the district to come together … “there’s strength and power in teamwork.”
Clarke closed public comment with a reminder to parents that the board is an entity under the state, and therefore unable to do whatever it wanted but gave this assurance: “We heard you.”