CLEARFIELD – A group of parents protested against Pennsylvania’s school mask mandate at Monday night’s Clearfield school board meeting.
Board Vice President and Acting Chairman Greg Clarke told audience members that anyone who wished to speak would be limited to five minutes, and that there would be no debate.
Because of outbursts and interruptions during last week’s public comment period, Clarke requested audience members to be courteous of others and to wait for their turn to speak.
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.
Erin Warrick was the first to speak, saying it was “from the heart.” She asked the board to look at the parents – who have jobs, families and extracurriculars – but who made time to be there.
She said some parents had children with asthma and learning disabilities, and masking was not only detrimental to their health, but also made it difficult for them to connect with teachers.
“I know your hands are tied,” she said, “but I would hope that in your hearts, you know this – from the top-down – isn’t right. It’s bullying. The governor is bullying.”
Warrick asked the district to work with parents toward a compromise, and Tara Muchmore added others like Harmony, Tyrone and Bald Eagle weren’t disciplining students for not masking.
Connie Mason apologized for last week’s “explosive anger,” then demanded that the district call a “special meeting” to respond to parents in a question-and-answer format.
She said last week’s air-quality demonstration underneath parent Sam Muchmore’s face mask was proof that children were being poisoned by toxins.
When Mason was advised she’d exceeded her time limit, five audience members gave her their time. Mason asked Solicitor Carl Beard if he’d advised the board not to respond to parents.
Beard said he had not and because he wasn’t present for the committee meetings last week, the board requested he be present to respond to some parent questions after public comment.
Mason told Beard she would like him to arrange for a board-parent communication meeting. Beard responded by saying, he couldn’t force the board to do anything.
“I’ll tell you what … they work for us: We the people. We the parents,” Mason said, turning toward the audience and telling fellow parents to demand that this meeting occur.
She said all summer and to start the school year, her four children were healthy, but since the mask mandate, they’ve brought home a sore throat, runny nose and cough.
“And it’s all since the masks. That’s why people are getting sick,” Mason said. “It’s not from COVID. It’s from the damn masks and you people know it!”
She said she was fed up and it was time to take back the country, beginning at the local level. “It’s time to get rid of this evil and bring in the light.”
Adam Simcox spoke briefly to suggest the district adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where they would assume any student not wearing a mask has some sort of religious or medical exemption.
Taylor Thomas again noted that the state mandate says nothing about the necessity of a doctor’s order, medical documentation, etc., for exemption, yet it’s being required by the district.
He said the mandate was issued by the state Department of Health but it should only address those with the illness, specifically in an outbreak.
“It would seem that since the order doesn’t require medical documentation that an exemption could be written by a parent,” Thomas said. “That puts responsibility on parents.
“… But we seem to be getting pushed around, our children are now caught in the crossfire and they are collateral damage to an extent.”
“Constitutionally, in Pennsylvania, the board is supposed to be able to act as local government and make decisions,” he continued, and the community wants masking to be a personal “choice.”
Once public comment concluded, Beard read guidance that was issued to school administrators statewide from the Department of Education. He read: “This order is not a mask optional policy.
“Any school entity simply permitting a parent’s signature or sign off without evidence that the student has a medical, mental health condition or disability that precludes the wearing of a face covering is not in compliance with the order.”
“There are exemptions to the order,” Beard continued. “However, a parent’s opposition to the order is not one of them.”
Beard said if the district would choose not to comply with the state mandate, it would face a greater risk of legal liability, open itself up to potential claims and also jeopardize insurance coverage.
When Beard finished, an audience member – who didn’t identify himself – came forward and brought up other districts that found a loop hole. “Can’t you do that for us?” he asked.