KNOX - Keystone School District will actively enforce the state Department of Health's face mask mandate starting Oct. 18.

The decision came Oct. 4 after two hours of public comment and a 6-3 vote.

Voting in favor of active enforcement of the mandate were Trisha Dixon, Stacy Thompson, Jim Beary, Greg Barrett, Ken Swartfager and Randy Burr. Opposed were John Slagle, Dwayne Van Tassel and Dustin Swartfager.

In the end, it was a 1955 state law the board cited in agreeing the state Department of Health's mandate must be followed.

After more than an hour of public comment, Ken Swartfager said the board is restricted by the Disease Prevention and Control Act.

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 surrendered that power to the state Department of Health.

"So, by default, we have to abide by commonwealth law," Ken Swartfager said. "We don't like (the mandate), but we have to take care of your child and the state wants us to use masks."

Ken Swartfager also pointed out the law and its related ordinances are specific in outlining penalties and fines and noted anyone with any kind of state-issued professional or business license could face non-renewal or revocation of those licenses if they knowingly violate the law.

Ken Swartfager acknowledged the 150 to 200 people in the audience nearly all of whom opposed the mask ordinance but added the school board represents all district taxpayers, including parents in favor of the masking requirement and property-owners without children in the school system.

Ken Swartfager told the audience members if they wanted to change the law, they need to take their fight to Harrisburg.

Jason Say, who co-founded the "My Kid My Choice" group at Keystone, countered that changing the law through Harrisburg could "take years" and any quick action now would likely be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Rebekah Elder, owner of Bekah's Boutique in Knox, said she opposes the mask mandate but understands the board members' reluctance to violate the law.

Elder said she was concerned when the state ordered businesses like hers to close last year that she could face licensing penalties if she violated the shut-down order.

Elder encouraged the people at the meeting to work together and with the school board to change the law.

Beary, who made the original motion two weeks ago to actively enforce the mandate, amended his motion to begin enforcement on Oct. 11, but Slagle, board president, asked Beary to move the date to Oct. 18.

Slagle said the state legislature is considering Senate Bill 846, which would allow parents or legal guardians to opt their child out of wearing a face covering or mask despite the mandate imposed by the state Secretary of Health or school board.

The final motion included enforcement of the masking mandate as ordered by the state department of health beginning Oct. 18, with district administrators empowered to adjust accordingly if Senate Bill 846 becomes law.

District Superintendent Michael McCormick said last month 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.

Public comment

Say, Elder, Leigh Black, Dana Sloat, Abigail Simchek, Jen Stephens, Randall "Buck" Weaver and Gina Clark all spoke during the public comment period. All but Clark stated opposition to the masking mandate.

Black told the board members she believes they are protected from liability lawsuits by sovereign immunity and expressed her surprise that some board members did not know what the phrase means.

Black said some of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including contact tracing, masking and social distancing are overreaching.

"When our children step inside these doors, they are treated like disease-ridden lepers," said Black.

Say said he wants to support the members of the school board, but realizes some members might not want to serve as the COVID emergency continues. Say said there are several people including himself willing to serve on the board and "stand up to Harrisburg."

Say said other school districts "are calling Gov. Wolf's bluff."

"I would encourage you to do the same," said Say.

Say added if the board moves ahead with enforcing the mask mandate, "We'll see you in court."

Sloat told the board she believes the mask mandate is child abuse.

"It (the mask mandate) is not about safety, it's about control," said Sloat.

Simchek and Stephens both said the masking mandates and social distancing is negatively affecting the mental health of many students.

Stephens, a nurse, said the government is exaggerating the impact of COVID.

"It's the flu on steroids," said Stephens. "That's all it is."

Clark questioned the Department of Health's change of course on recognizing the presence of COVID antibodies when quarantining students.

Clark said the DOH originally said students with antibodies did not need to be quarantined after exposure to another person with COVID but recently changed that stance and now recommends quarantine.

Mask support

Two people spoke in favor of the masking mandate.

Ginger McGiffin, mother of a high school student, said she believes masks do prevent the spread of the virus and encouraged the board to enforce the mandate.

McGiffin was not necessarily afforded the same courtesy she showed for those opposed to the mandate and had to speak above a growing round of audience talking, and in some cases, shouting.

McGiffin said the mandate matters to people who have lost loved ones to COVID.

Michelle Kahl, a mental health therapist, said she had a bout of COVID about a year ago and still feels the effects.

Kahl said COVID has struck her immediate family and the effects of the virus worry her. Kahl said she fears if her husband were to go to the hospital with COVID it is possible she might never see him again.

Kahl said it took her two months to recover from COVID enough to return to work.

"I was very afraid of losing my business," said Kahl. She said she knows students are experiencing many difficulties during the pandemic.

"But wearing a mask is not child abuse," said Kahl. "Please make mandatory masking a priority."

Tags

CLARION - It's usually "caveat emptor" let the buyer beware when buying a used vehicle through an auction, and Scott and Pamela Price of Leeper agree with that adage, but the couple believes they got a raw deal when they bought seven vehicles through the recent Clarion County surplus sale.

CLARION TWP. - Hearts are in the right place in regard to the Clarion-Limestone School Board and what to do with the Betty Willison Scholarship account, but unfortunately for the board, the laws are quite stringent when it comes to how to invest the principle.

SLIGO - Pastor Brock Beveridge is quick to point out the large diorama of "The City of Jerusalem" isn't perfectly actuate, but it is pretty close. The scene includes the temple on the mount which was destroyed by the Romans.

CLARION - Students, faculty and staff at Keystone School District returned to classes Tuesday under direction to comply with a state Department of Health mandate requiring face masks in all district buildings.

MONROE TWP. - Putting life back into the Clarion Mall, "Family Farm & Home" opened its doors to the public Oct. 14, headed up by store manager Bobbi Wood, a Clarion-Limestone High School graduate and an eight-year Army veteran.

CLARION TWP. - "Seceder Cemetery" is a secluded garden of heroes. Lying among the trees are the graves of eight veterans of the Revolutionary War, several graves of Clarion County men who served in the War of 1812 and at least one veteran of the Civil War.

RIMERSBURG — A 71-year-old Rimersburg man faces numerous charges after police said they found 13 images of a 15-year-old girl in various stages of undress and to the point of nudity.

PORTER TWP. – Tpr. Katherine Berggren reports a 48-year-old New Bethlehem man faces numerous charges, including attempted homicide, after he allegedly fired a gun in the direction of a 45-year-old South Fork woman and an 11-year-old girl, also from South Fork.

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.

CLARION - As it has for several years, Knox Borough Council Oct. 4 agreed to hold its 2022 real estate tax level at 10 mills, and will continue budget planning into November.

CLARION - Contract negotiations are nothing new between the Clarion Area School Board and the Clarion Education Association but the way the negotiations are being handled this year is a change.

CLARION - The "hustle and bustle" has returned to the Community Learning Workshop at 505 Main Street in Clarion as the center has re-opened its doors to face-to-face tutoring and programs, a change that could be vitally important as local schools are mired in face masking and vaccine debates.

MONROE TWP. - Penny Campbell, director of the Clarion County Housing Authority, recently outlined the plans of the newly-formatted Clarion County Redevelopment Authority during the Clarion County Association of Township Officials convention in Monroe Township.

CLARION — It was Farmers and Crafters Day on Friday at the Autumn Leaf Festival, and Clarion Chamber of Business and Industry leader Tracy Becker said the day went well.

CLARION — The 68th Clarion Autumn Leaf Festival ended like it began, under sunny skies. The tractor show brought dozens of antique tractors, “hit and miss” engines and lawn tractors to Clarion’s Main Street.

FOXBURG - For most students who want to participate in a sport their school district doesn't offer, a cooperative agreement can be the best solution but in the case of one Allegheny-Clarion Valley student, it's better if her home district stays neutral.

CLARION - "We are in a crisis," said Ed Goth of the Clarion County Emergency Medical Services Task Force during the recent convention of the Clarion County Association of Township Supervisors.

CLARION — The Clarion Free Library should be a warmer place this winter.Library director Ian Snyder said the new boiler has been mostly installed and will be turned on a week from today.Snyder said the boiler will be easier to operate and takes up a lot less space in the basement boiler room…

FRILLS CORNERS - Adding the extension to the Washington Township existing sewage system has been a long, arduous process over the past couple years but there may be light at the end of the proverbial tunnel soon.

CLARION - A recent tax assessment appeal for the Regency Commons low-income housing complex along South Fifth Avenue in Clarion could cost the borough, county and school district a combined total of nearly $88,000 in real estate tax revenue.

Union High School will dismiss students at 11 a.m. today due to "several positive cases of Covid which have resulted in quarantining of staff members necessary in performing key functions," according to Superintendent John Kimmel. The high school will be operating remotely Monday, Tuesday, a…

CLARION - The Clarion Borough Stormwater Authority will soon send out its fourth-quarter bills and at the same time, it will be sending delinquent account notices to those property-owners who have not yet paid the fee.

ELK TWP. - Elk Township supervisors discussed possible road projects for the 2022 construction season Sept. 13 but didn't commit to any of the work yet.

CLARION TWP. - At the Clarion-Limestone School Board's August meeting, the board was made aware of 51 missing Chromebooks and how it cost the district around $15,000 but at the board's meeting September session, C-L Principal Mel Aaron wanted to clarify some of those figures were exaggerated.

CLARION - The Clarion County Board of Commissioners, during its Sept. 28 meeting, opened sealed bids for cars, buses, real estate and miscellaneous items that total, unofficially, well over $300,000.

CLARION - Clarion County officials Sept. 16 learned the county was awarded $1,096,125 by the Appalachian Regional Commission to design, build, and launch fixed wireless broadband services to unserved andunderserved areas.

STRATTANVILLE - Pennsylvania-American Water Co. has expressed interest in purchasing a section of the Strattanville Municipal Authority's sewerage collection system.

FRILLS CORNERS - It seems being in a state of flux has been an unfortunate reality of the Lake Lucy Municipal Authority since its inception in 2014 and it doesn't seem to be settling down any time soon.

KOSSUTH - Ashland Township supervisors plan to bring the township's broken down 2014 International general-purpose truck back to the maintenance building but beyond that, the future of the truck is uncertain.

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 ma…

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.

ERIE - The attorney representing Keystone School District believes the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health's order mandating the use of face masks in school is "legal and binding."

CLARION TWP. - In its August work session/regular meeting, the Clarion-Limestone School Board accepted the first reading of a policy regarding the district's philosophy of education and its teaching of non-traditional subjects.

FRILLS CORNERS - The North Clarion School Board Sept. 13 heard strong opinions from parents regarding a state mandate requiring their children to wear masks at school.

PAINT TWP. - Paint Township supervisors Sept. 14 followed through on a pledge to support "specific projects" by the Shippenville/Elk Township Volunteer Fire Department.

LEEPER - Farmington Township will tap into its American Rescue Plan funding to clear sewerage sludge from its treatment plant and to repair various manholes in the sewerage collection system.

CLARION - Shade trees were again a topic of discussion at the Clarion Borough September council meeting and the matter will be forwarded to the borough storm water authority for its input.

CLARION - A "paddle share" service might be coming to Clarion as soon as next spring. Pending approval from the Clarion Borough Council, Tom Switzer hopes to start a kayak and paddleboard rental service at the Toby boat launch.

ELK TWP. - State police have filed a summary traffic violation charge against a 66-year-old Kossuth woman who was allegedly at the wheel of a vehicle that struck and killed an Amish man as he drove his buggy along U.S. Route 322 in Elk Township Jan. 14, 2020.

CLARION - Since the Pennsylvania Department of Health mandated K-12 students in schools across the commonwealth wear face coverings, there has been a lot of pushback from parents, including those at Clarion Area School District.

CLARION - "Anything can happen," said Tracy Becker, executive director at the Clarion Area Chamber of Business and Industry, and while "all systems are go" for the 2021 Autumn Leaf Festival, Becker isn't taking any chances.

Union High School and career center will be dismissing students at 9:30 a.m. due to a power outage at the school, according to district Superintendent John Kimmel. Phones at the school are also not working. Sligo Elementary School students will be dismissed at the normal time.