Cumberland Valley School Board votes to keep masking and other COVID rules in place

The Cumberland Valley School Board voted 8-1 Monday to stick to an existing health and safety plan that requires students, staff and visitors to school buildings to wear masks indoors in order to trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The council vote came after a lengthy period of public commentary which saw a virtual eruption of a silent majority of parents and members of the public speaking out in favor of the current health and safety plan, which takes the whole package. district protocols for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the board, backed by this strong show of public support, said if there were any issues with some aspect of the plan they should be shared with Superintendent David Christopher and his team for potential adjustments in its execution.

And they also noted that this is a living document that will change with the course of the pandemic.

But they would act irresponsibly and negligently to remove him without a replacement, members said.

“Our real job is to keep our kids in school and keep them safe, and that’s what we intend to do with the plan in place,” said Barbara Geistwhite, board member. . “If we cancel this plan tonight, we have no plan. I would rather see a plan in place with options to change it as we need it rather than having no plan and being in non-compliance. “

Board member Heather Dunn agrees.

“We have a $ 160 million school district to run, and literally at every meeting we just do nothing but sit here and talk about masks… We have to go ahead and make it a problem. dead.”

In the end, the board voted 8-1 to keep her plan, with only director Jessica Silcox voting to cancel it.

Monday’s debate was sparked by a call from several board members to make changes to the health plan, which requires the use of masks by students, teachers and school visitors during times of high transmission of COVID-19, and sets out other rules governing physical distancing, contact tracing and quarantine periods for those exposed to the disease.

Board members opened the meeting by noting that regardless of their decision on Monday, school administrators would still be required in the short term to follow the statewide public health order issued earlier this year. this month by Acting Secretary of State for Health Alison Beam demanding masks in schools.

But the majority of parents the council heard from on Monday praised the existing district plan, arguing that the relatively modest sacrifices it demands of students and staff are well worth the full learning experiences – from running hands-on science labs. practice of pronunciation in a foreign language. languages, making music – that’s brought back for the students who are back in the buildings.

“Most of us just want to go to school,” summed up Teodor Hellgren, currently a junior at Cumberland Valley High School.

In fact, out of more than 230 written comments submitted to the board ahead of Monday’s meeting, board chair Brian Drapp said 220 have expressed support for the state’s current blackout order for all schools or to the district’s own health and safety plan, while only 15 expressed opposition.

Many of those supporters also went on the offensive on Monday night, denouncing the board for even reopening what they said should have been a long-standing discussion due to the voices of a strong minority.

“I really don’t understand why every week we are wasting so much energy and time on this masking problem, when it is actually a non-problem and a slam dunk,” said the parent Wajih Ahmed.

“Many school board members have shown their willingness to accede to the demands of a targeted and misguided group… You give in to a crowd,” one man complained.

Another speaker, David Shoffner, argued that the district should actually consider tightening its processes for dealing with parents who send their children to school when they are sick. “Now I know the health and safety plan may not require basic parenting skills,” Shoffner said, “but that’s unacceptable. As a community, we must do better.

The district reported that over the past week it had received reports of COVID-19 cases in nine of its 12 schools. The report says there were 37 cases in the district from September 13 to 17, and a total of 77 cases since the start of the school year.

But support for the plan was far from unanimous.

Several parents on Monday opposed this part of the plan that requires the quarantine of students, some arguing that the experience of their own students who had been quarantined was unsatisfactory, and others arguing that it there should be more equity between the way vaccinated and unvaccinated students are treated.

In high school, several said the plan makes no provision for high school students to receive online education if they are in COVID-related quarantine, offering rationale that all high school students are eligible for COVID vaccinations. 19, and as part of the plan, fully vaccinated students are only required to self-quarantine if they develop symptoms of COVID.

Chris Stouffer of Hampden Township said the district should equip all buildings with live streaming capabilities so that all students can get synchronous learning from their teachers when they are forced to quarantine. Stouffer also threatened board members with a petition to dismiss them for “negligence of duty” if they leave the plan in place as is.

Parent Chris Conrad said the plan falls short of helping students with special education plans when forced into self-quarantine.

And others have continued to complain about the mandates relating to the pandemic in general as constituting an abuse of peoples’ rights.

Inna Stolyarov, who said her family had emigrated from Belarus to the United States for 40 years to escape crackdown, said what she has seen in the past 18 months in America is reminiscent of the nation she has left.

“We left the lack of freedom, dictatorship and persecution on the basis of your beliefs,” Stolyarov said. “And what happened in this country is heartbreaking. Mandates, orders, constant fear and propaganda create a mass psychosis where people lose common sense. People have forgotten the rights they have provided for in the Constitution.

“We all have to wake up and think, what are we doing for the future of this country by following illegal orders and mandates?”

Monday’s meeting mirrored discussions that took place during the school board session across the state as the 2021-22 school year opened, with most school officials keen to try to return to full-time face-to-face teaching.

Unlike most of these meetings, however, the Cumberland Valley School Board chose to close its meeting to public participation, with the board conducting its affairs through an Internet stream. District officials said they were switching to this format due to widespread violations of masking policies in previous meetings and general crowd control concerns.

Cumberland Valley’s initial health and safety plan developed earlier this summer included optional masking. As COVID-19 cases began to increase in August, the board voted 4-3 to revise the plan to require universal masking when the community spread of the virus is at a “high” level across the country. Pennsylvania Department of Health database.

Cumberland County has experienced a “high” level of transmission since the Cumberland Valley school year began on August 31 (all counties in Pennsylvania have high transmission, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) . The rising rate of infection has prompted Cumberland Valley to demand masks.

Meanwhile, on September 7, Beam’s order requiring masking in preschools and childcare centers went into effect.

If Cumberland Valley abandons its health and safety plan, it could jeopardize the district’s $ 3.2 million allocation of federal money from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Federal law requires districts to have a health and safety plan to be eligible for a grant, according to the Department of Education website.

Christopher had said ahead of the meeting that he would recommend that the board keep the health and safety plan in place and follow the health secretary’s order regarding the masks.

“I see no bright side in our choosing not to follow the governor’s order,” he said. “It exposes the neighborhood to a lot of responsibility. On top of that, it really potentially opens up the neighborhood not being able to stay open, which I think is a big concern. “

The state education ministry, in a September 8 letter to the Tamaqua region school board, warning that if school principals violate the masking order, they risk exposing themselves – and the district to fines and lawsuits from families of children affected by disregarding the masking policy.

“We strongly suggest that officials check with their personal insurance professionals to find out to what extent personal insurance (owners, etc.) may or may not offer protection in the event that you are sued in a personal capacity.” , did he declare.

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