KNOX - With a much smaller audience, the Keystone School Board Oct. 11 again outlined its stance on the state's mandatory masking rule and the district's intention to enforce the rule beginning Oct. 18.
Meeting for a work session where no formal action could be taken, the school board heard from just two speakers from an audience of about six people. Two audience members wore face masks and four did not. Last week, between 150 and 200 people attended the board's meeting.
Last week, the Keystone School Board by a 6-3 margin voted to enforce the state Department of Health's mask mandate as part of a 1955 public health law.
Citing the Disease Prevention and Control Act, board member Ken Swartfager explained that in the 1950s when the law was under consideration and development, local county, municipal and school governments were given the opportunity to set their own health and safety guidelines.
But because Clarion County, the townships and boroughs in the school district and the school district itself did not set their own health and safety regulations, all of the entities permanently surrendered that power to the state Department of Health.
This week, Randall Weaver asked Swartfager to show him the provision in the law allowing a mask mandate and handed Swartfager several pages of the law.
"You don't have the whole thing here," said Swartfager. "You're not even close."
Swartfager said the law, its amendments and subsections is a thick pile of paperwork.
"But no, the law doesn't say anything about face masks and pandemics," said Swartfager. "It addressed communicable diseases and epidemics."
As he did last week, Swartfager explained school board members, as elected officials, are bound by the 1955 law to do "everything in their power" to stop the spread of a communicable disease" or face civil penalties and since there are no local health and safety regulations, the law requires the school board to follow state Department of Health edicts.
Jason Say, a co-founder of the "My Kid My Choice" group, asked the board why the district could not continue to "just do what we've been doing?"
The district has stated face masks are required in all district buildings but has not enforced the rule. The mask requirements will be enforced beginning Oct. 18.
"We have to do everything in our power to stop the spread," Swartfager repeated. "If you don't do everything in your power, the full weight of the commonwealth can be brought down on you."
Board member Stacy Thompson asked Say if he had talked to anyone in Harrisburg about changing the law.
Say said he has talked to state Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-63) numerous times. Say said a change in the law will take months and would likely be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Thompson encouraged Say to go to the Capitol in Harrisburg and talk directly to senators and representatives.
Say countered he doesn't have that kind of time.
"If you truly believe in the things you are saying," replied Thompson, "you'll take the time."
Swartfager offered to go to Harrisburg with Say.
"That is how it (changing the law) has to happen," said Swartfager. "It's a democracy. Will it happen overnight? No. But I'll go with you tomorrow."
Say countered immediate action by local school boards is imperative.
"Our real concern is a vaccine mandate," said Say. "We know that is coming."
After discussing what the Department of Health considers as a face mask or shield, the talk switched to the mandate's definition of medical "reasons" versus a doctor's written directive excusing students from wearing a face mask.
Say argued the mandate allows for face mask exemptions for parental-listed "medical reasons" but does not require a "doctor's excuse" something the district intends to require.
Board members said they would look into the point.
The board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 for its regular business session.
Further public comment on the mask mandate is expected.