Nearly half of Pennsylvania principals surveyed said they had been threatened over a mask order

School administrators have faced hostility from some parents and residents after the Pennsylvania mask order for schools took effect last month.

This week, the Pennsylvania Principals Association released an investigation indicating the intense backlash they are experiencing from parents who oppose the statewide mask order. The survey found that 44% of principals who responded said they had been threatened “by a parent, student or community member because of the mask’s mandate.” The survey included responses from 449 members.

Dr Eric Eshbach, executive director of the Pennsylvania Principals Association, said some of the threats did not necessarily indicate violence. Some parents have threatened legal action, he said.

Nonetheless, Eshbach said some threats were indeed threats of violence. And he said hearing nearly half of those polled receiving some sort of threat was “alarming.”

“I know some have been physically threatened. Some of the threats come from social media, ”Eshbach said.

He added, “I spoke with members who said that after a board meeting they were advised not to walk to their cars on their own.

Eshbach served as a school superintendent for 16 years in central Pennsylvania, leading both the North York County and Upper Adams school districts. But he said the hostility he has witnessed at school board meetings in recent weeks is unprecedented.

“I’ve never seen this level of anger in what I would call some stable school districts,” Eshbach said.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration issued the mask order last month amid a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The governor initially said he wanted local school districts to pass the call, but felt compelled to act due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and the desire to keep children in wards class. Wolf also cited what he described as misinformation and pressure on boards to refrain from demanding masks.

Several legal challenges have emerged to overturn the order. Republican lawmakers, who control the General Assembly, are also exploring ways to block the Democratic governor’s term.

In central Pennsylvania, school board meetings have become very controversial, if not noisy, over the issue of masks.

Last month, the Cumberland Valley School Board elected to meet remotely and broadcast the meeting to the public when members voted to keep its mask policy and other COVID-19 measures in place. District officials said they chose not to meet in person due to violations of masking policies in previous meetings and general crowd control concerns.

Police attended other interim school board meetings. Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said he had heard that a number of school districts have summoned police or hired security guards to maintain order at meetings. His group, which represents school principals and other leaders, heard reports of threats of violence against administrators.

“There have been several superintendents who have also received threatening emails, threatening statements made to them at board meetings,” DiRocco said.

“We find this whole affair very worrying. We ask all those who are frustrated with the decisions made during the pandemic to be as reasonable and cooperative as possible.

“These threats … which must end now,” he added.

Earlier this week, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden, imploring him to order federal law enforcement “to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and intimidation. happening across the country “. The group said school board meetings were disrupted in California, Florida, Georgia and other states.

At a press briefing this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it was largely up to local law enforcement to protect school boards, The Associated reported. Press. But she added: “We continue to explore whether more can be done across the administration.”

“Obviously, these threats to school board members are horrific. They are doing their job, ”she said.

Given the strong emotions seen in recent weeks, DiRocco said local law enforcement should be present at school board meetings and other events to ensure that no one can implement a threat.

“Every local municipality with police officers needs to step up its game and make sure these school board meetings and other events are covered,” he said.

Eshbach asked parents to remain civil with school administrators, teachers and board members.

“That kind of behavior, the kind of vitriol, the kind of anger, the kind of threat… doesn’t help kids. It doesn’t help them understand civil discourse, ”he said.

He also said he would ask parents to respect, or at least tolerate, the order of masks as a way to preserve in-person education and avoid relying on distance education, as many districts do. did so last year. The school principals association supports the mask requirement if it ensures that children can stay in classrooms.

“We can’t go through another year like last year,” Eshbach said.

“We want our children to go to school,” he added. “It doesn’t matter what it takes.”

The principals survey also found that 89% of those polled said their school district followed the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s mask order, while 11% said they were asked to conduct masks. actions in violation of this order. Some said they were told to accept mask exemptions from parents, even without any medical documentation from a doctor indicating these children could not wear masks.

The survey found that 13% of principals said they believed their work was in danger, due to the conflict between the state ordinance and guidelines from their local school boards.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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