FOXBURG - A group of around 40 concerned parents showed up at the Sept. 20 Allegheny-Clarion Valley School Board meeting to voice their displeasure with the district's handling of the mask mandate handed down earlier this month by the Pennsylvania Department of Health but the overwhelming majority of those parents left the meeting unsatisfied.
After a public comment period, the assembled audience asked the board to take a vote on the policy which only allows a child to be exempted from wearing a face covering at school with a doctor's excuse.
The crowd was informed by School Board President Jennifer Feicht the board had nothing on the agenda regarding the face covering policy and they would not be voting on the issue.
"We have to follow this mandate like we follow any other mandate in the state," Feicht said. "Unfortunately we don't get to pick and choose."
The assembled audience members voiced that the district did have a choice to go against the mandate and pointed to the Clarion-Limestone School District's decision last week to allow parents to decide on the masking of their children.
After Feicht's announcement, the crowd voiced their frustrations with the board not taking action.
Cherlynn Bartley, who also spoke earlier in the meeting during the public comment period, took exception with a comment by Feicht that the district's "hands are tied" when it comes to the issue.
"I have given all of you numerous pieces of information showing that you have backing and you are safeguarded and you are empowered to make these decisions," Bartley said.
Board member Carrie Armagost disagreed with Bartley's statement.
"You're also not an attorney," Armagost said. "We received information from the state that contradicts what you have found. I volunteer for this (school board) position because I care about this district. I am a graduate of this district and my kids are students in this district. But when the state tells me that if you don't do (whatever it mandates), this is what will happen, I have seen the warning letters go out to other districts.
"You have to understand the position we as a board have been put in and we don't like it as much as you don't like it so it is very frustrating to sit here and feel like we did this to your kids."
After Armagost's comments, board member Lena Southworth voiced her displeasure with the statements of the assembled crowd.
"Are any of you going to pay my legal fees if we get sued?" Southworth asked. "I have spent eight years of sleepless nights worrying about the safety of your kids. We have put hundreds of hours into dealing with how to handle COVID just to keep your kids safe."
Southworth continued, "My kid goes to this school so if your kid doesn't wear a mask and mine gets sick, I am jeopardizing my kid's safety."
District resident Samuel Adams responded to Southworth's question.
"That mask he is wearing should keep him from getting sick, correct?" Adams said. "You just said the mask is going to keep you from getting sick."
Southworth responded, "First of all sir, my son is vaccinated and he can get sick. You sit there and say you care about the teachers and that you care about this. Really? These teachers are (putting themselves at risk) because they have to because it is there job."
Adams responded, "You made your decision before this meeting ever started. You didn't want to listen to us."
During the public comment period, Rob Best made it known that if the district did not let parents decide about face coverings for their children he would explore the "nuclear option" of pulling his two children out of the district and enrolling them in an outside cyber school.
If a parent decides to enroll their children in an outside cyber school, it is up to the school district to foot the bill for the cyber school which costs significantly more that the district's in-house cyber school.
District Superintendent Dr. David McDeavitt hopes a mass exodus of students to outside cyber schools doesn't occur at A-C Valley.
"It's unfortunate," McDeavitt said about the parents threatening to pull their children out of the district and enroll them in an outside cyber school. "I understand how great our education program is and the limited education they will receive (at a cyber school)."
McDeavitt is hopeful, things will change for the better.
"I just hope the parents are willing to work with us," McDeavitt said. "I am hoping COVID subsides and this mandate goes away and we can get back to educating the kids. Hopefully they reconsider (taking their children out of school)."
When the mask mandate was handed down, the district started an Act 504 child find process giving parents five days to submit a doctor's excuse to exempt their child from wearing a mask at school. The five day deadline is Sept. 27.
McDeavitt is concerned that parents may pull their children out of the district on the Sept. 27 deadline.
According to the district website, the Pennsylvania Department of Health will revisit the mask mandate in October.
Adams, Seth Campbell, Juanita Stiglitz and Julie Myers spoke during the public comment period in opposition to the district not allowing parents to excuse their children from wearing face masks in school.