KNOX - Opponents of the state Department of Health mandate requiring masks in public schools had nearly 90 minutes to make their case Sept. 20 in front of the Keystone School Board and in the end, the board delayed its decision on enforcing the mandate.
Keystone School Board President John Slagle called for tabling the decision until Sept. 27, saying he believes there will be "legislative action" by that time which will make any local board decisions "moot."
Slagle's call for tabling the action came after Keystone School District Acting Superintendent Michael McCormick gave his recommendation that the district enforce the mandate as stated by the Department of Health.
Approximately 110 people filled the elementary school cafeteria/gymnasium (two of those people wore face masks) with 10 people calling ahead to be placed on the meeting agenda to speak on the issue.
Each of those 10 people was afforded approximately five minutes to address the board with each of the speakers opposing the mask mandate and most stating their support for in-person instruction.
With the public comment portion of the work session over, McCormick began his regular work session report and acknowledged the masking issue has become "very divisive."
McCormick told the board members and the audience (as of Sept. 20) the district had 16 positive cases of COVID-19 among students, teachers and other employees.
Additionally, 183 people were quarantined from the school.
"Only 10 percent of our students are wearing masks," said McCormick.
McCormick, who also serves as elementary school principal, said the district's legal counsel had warned of a "list of consequences" the district could face if it does not enforce the masking mandate.
McCormick said legal counsel warned of possible financial penalties, loss of liability insurance coverage, revocation of certifications for administrators, federal civil rights violations and lawsuits against the district and individual board members and administrators.
McCormick said district attorneys advised him medical documentation must be on file for students seeking a medical exemption and the attorneys further advised the district that parents cannot simply "opt out" of the mask mandate.
"I have no choice but to recommend to enforce the mandate entirely, starting next week, Sept. 27," said McCormick.
McCormick said the parents of students who refused to wear a mask would be notified of their child's violation and if the parent did not convince the student to wear a mask, the student would be sent home.
"We might lose hundreds (of students) to cyber school," said McCormick. "But enforcement (of the mandate) is our only path forward."
McCormick's recommendation to the board touched off a 25-minute round of un-moderated public comment with several people standing to loudly oppose the recommendation and berate McCormick and the board for having "already made up their minds."
One woman asked McCormick if he would "go along" with a mandate requiring students to receive a COVID vaccine.
"I can't respond to something that hasn't happened," replied McCormick. "But I won't lie, some of the consequences (of violating the mask mandate) concern me."
The board proceeded its way through the work session agenda and quickly moved through the regular business meeting agenda and arrived at the heart of the meeting.
Board member Jim Beary motioned to approve "the approach of the Keystone School District toward the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Aug. 31 facial covering order" as a procedural move to bring the matter to a vote.
Slagle intervened and suggested tabling the vote for a week.
The audience called for the board to vote on the issue and some board members appeared to agree.
"The (state) legislature is back in session," said Slagle. "They will address this. By this time next week, it could be a moot point."
Slagle said "all" of the board members wanted to vote against the enforcement of the mandate but are "hamstrung."
My kid, my choice
The ten scheduled public comments came from Leigh Black, Dan Cosper, Ian Fulton, Sylvia Jones, Sarah Knepper, Amber Mohney, Missy Pore, Liza Say, Tom Spence and Don Gutonski.
Jason Say, who led a "My kid, my choice" rally on Labor Day in Knox and encouraged the 200 at that rally to join him at the Sept. 20 school board session did not attend the Monday night meeting as he was on a hunting trip in New Mexico.
Several of the speakers at the school board meeting echoed Say's call for parents to enroll their children in cyber school and force the school district into bankruptcy if the district enforces the mask mandate.
Spence told the board his research led him to believe the board members cannot be held liable for their decisions on the mask mandate.
Spence said the threats of loss of certifications are "nonsense."
Most of the speakers said they believe the school board members are in a "difficult" situation, but called on the board to support the group's "my kid, my choice" philosophy.
Several speakers said if the board members do not want to "face up" to Harrisburg mandates, they should resign from the board.
Editor's note: Although Keystone School Board President John Slagle indicated a vote on the mask mandate would be held Sept. 27, school officials indicated Tuesday that meeting might be held Sept. 28 to accommodate all school board members. Interested individuals should watch for an announcement.