Mask warrants arrive at Monroe schools, politicians and schools speak
Governor Tom Wolf’s school mask tenure announcement on Tuesday drew mixed responses from Poconos politicians and educators.
Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam was joined by Wolf, Secretary of Education Noe Ortega, Acting Secretary of Human Services Meg Snead and President of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics , Dr. Trude Haecker to announce the order “requiring the wearing of masks inside K -12 school buildings, preschool learning programs and child care providers” which will come into effect Sept. 7.
Since children under 12 are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, most health experts have promoted masking as the best way to prevent the spread of the virus among young students.
The governor noted that a statewide mandate was not his original intention, although current problems in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country have necessitated this decision, especially in light of the increase in childhood cases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reported that approximately 204,000 cases of COVID-19 in children were reported across the country during the week of August 19-26, or 22.4% of weekly cases. The data show that while the rates among children fell in early summer, but “rose exponentially, with a five-fold increase in the last month.”
“I preferred that the local school boards made this decision,” said Wolf. “Sadly, an aggressive national campaign is spreading misinformation about wearing masks and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies that will keep children and school safe. As we see increasing cases among children in Pennsylvania and across the country, this is especially dangerous and difficult as we seek to keep children in school and maintain a safe and healthy learning environment. “
Pocono politicians step in
Politicians here in the Poconos are divided on the issue, with Republicans calling on Wolf for issuing the global mandate instead of leaving the decision to local officials.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Representative Jack Rader (R-176) called the mandate “another questionable order taken by a governor and his administration who think they know what will work best for local school administrators, families and students ”.
“However, I think the decision to hide or not to hide should be made at the local level by school boards working in conjunction with parents,” Rader said. “After all, they are the ones who can really determine how to keep students and faculty safe, while maintaining an effective learning environment. “
Rader also referred to the decision to end Wolf’s unilateral disaster emergency declarations through a constitutional amendment requiring the General Assembly to be involved in the process. The representative pointed out that the measure was passed by voters in Pennsylvania and that Tuesday’s decision essentially overturned their choice.
“They want their elected representatives to have a say in such critical decisions, which unfortunately did not happen today,” Rader said.
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Senator Mario Scavello (R-40) called Wolf for changing his mind by allowing local school districts to determine their own stance on masks and other mitigation efforts. The senator said he had heard from many parents and school board members who vehemently debated these topics at the local level and ultimately “made the tough decisions.”
“Then when they all made decisions based on local conditions, he clearly didn’t like their actions. The governor waited on the sidelines while communities were torn by the debate, to change direction at the last possible minute, ”Scavello said in a statement. “I firmly believe this is a decision best left to the local school districts. Schools have done their due diligence on masking and other mitigation measures. “
Scavello also asked why the mandate was due to go into effect next week if the situation was as dire as Wolf and his administration claimed, and said the General Assembly and the public had received little data to justify the decision.
Going forward, Scavello has co-sponsored a bill to address the problem of masking in schools, although he predicts that even if he goes through the Legislature with the help of Democrats, Wolf could oppose his veto the initiative, leaving it essentially without sufficient support for a waiver.
“But, you know, I always say we’re going forward with the bill, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Scavello said. “And then what we do is at the end, if he vetoed it, you will see the true colors of the people who voted for it,” Scavello said.
Representative Rosemary Brown (R-189) said that while she supported protecting the health and safety of students and teachers, Wolf’s tenure amounted to “an abuse of power that should be of concern to all. the individuals “.
Brown noted that “the needs of Pike County and Monroe County are vastly different from those of Philadelphia County,” and that while she was satisfied with Wolf’s earlier position on local decision-making, the announcement of Tuesday upset this ability of districts to deal with the problem. on their own terms.
“Yesterday’s tenure, led by the governor and carried out by an unelected and unconfirmed interim health secretary, alienates parents and local school boards. The point is that in a democracy, which I have continually talked about during this pandemic, no one person should have control over people’s lives and freedoms, ”said Brown.
On the other hand, Representative Maureen Madden (D-115) supported the mandate, stating in social media posts that “(a) with every adult who is going to get vaccinated, this is our best way to beat COVID -19 and keep schools (and) businesses open. “
“The masks will keep schools and daycares open,” Madden added in a statement. “Open schools and daycares help families and the economy by allowing parents to continue working.
Madden voters appeared divided on the issue on social media platforms, with some siding with the views expressed by Rader, Scavello and Brown, others supporting her and the Wolf administration.
School districts ready to hide
Local school districts, on the other hand, were generally receptive to the mandate, either using the measure proactively or implementing it with alternative options for education and a limited exception, in some cases.
East Stroudsburg Area School District Administrative Services Director Eric D. Forsyth referred to their health and safety plan, dated July 19, 2021, stating that the district would follow the ministry’s current orders. of Health concerning face covers.
He therefore said that effective September 7, 2021, all students, teachers, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their immunization status.
The order will not apply to student-athletes while they are playing.
Board chairman Richard Schlameuss said no other exceptions would be made other than those listed in the ordinance. However, there are options for families who need an alternative to sending their masked children to school.
“While the district will follow the governor’s orders, ESASD families currently have the option to change their registration type in the district,” said Schlameuss. If they were going five days a week and they prefer to move on to our ESACA, our cyber academy, or move to synchronous learning, they have that option right now to make those changes. There is a form on our website to complete the information and changes will be made on a first come, first served basis. “
Pleasant Valley School District Acting Superintendent Charlene Brennan said her district would follow the DOH’s new ordinance for universal masking in their school buildings.
“Recently I have received numerous emails and phone calls from parents who want a universal masking requirement,” Brennan said. “The only exceptions we will make are the eight exceptions listed in order.”
For a medical exemption, Pleasant Valley has created a standard form that all parents must use and that must be signed by their doctor. This form is available on the PV website.
Stroudsburg-area school district superintendent Cosmas Curry said nothing had changed for his district, which previously announced that CDC guidelines and recommendations for masking would be followed due to moderate transmission rates to high observed in the county during the summer. Stroudsburg was the only district to preemptively apply masking.
Pocono Mountain School District Public Relations Director Wendy Frable said the PMSD will respect the masking mandate, with all school members required to wear face coverings inside schools, although ‘she noted that the exceptions authorized by the DOH would be allowed.
“The Pocono Mountain School District continues to support a safe and healthy learning environment for all students and staff,” said Frable.