Angry people came face to face, masked and unmasked, to fight over mandates at the Aug. 19 Delaware Valley school board meeting.
The fireworks started when board member Brian Carso introduced a motion to adopt a two-week mask mandate at the start of the school to protect against the highly contagious Delta variant.
He cited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which finds that Pike County has a high transmission rate.
Carso’s motion asks the board to modify DV’s 2021 Health and Safety Plan to require that all students, teachers, and staff members wear a face mask when indoors.
“This requirement will be adjusted to optional when the transmission rate is lowered to ‘moderate’ for a period of two weeks,” he said, reading the motion aloud.
People began shouting.
“F--- you man!” and “Ain’t happening!” and “No!” and “No way!” The uproar was loud and fierce.
The board voted, 7-2, to table the motion. Carso and Rosemary Walsh were the only board members to vote for it.
The board said it would revisit Carso’s motion during the next school board meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 16 at Shohola Elementary. With the first day of classes scheduled for Aug. 30, DV will open its schools without a mask requirement. PA Gov. Tom Wolf decided earlier this month against requiring masks in schools since the CDC is not calling for a mandate.
A smattering of people wore masks. Board president Jack Fisher asked the school police chief to stand ready to remove people who interrupted, screamed, shouted, or disrupted the meeting while others spoke. Two officers kept watch over the meeting, sometimes moving in tandem to areas in the high school auditorium where people were raising their voices or using vulgar language.
The number of children hospitalized with Covid-19 in the United States hit a record high this month, according to the CDC. Children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
One woman said at the meeting, “Wearing a mask is a way to live with compassion.” But she was outnumbered.
Twenty-plus people stood in a line, waiting to speak to the board one by one. They said they didn’t want contact tracing because it would shut down the school. They said they didn’t want Zoom school sessions that keep students homebound and force parents to miss work, and at an expensive cost to taxpayers. (DV maintained a full-time, in-person schedule for the 2020-21 school year.)
One man said even doctors with impressive degrees don’t have the answers.
A dangerous variant
Carso explained his reasoning in an email to the Courier.
“The Delta variant of the Covid virus is several times more transmissible than the original Alpha variant we dealt with last year,” he said. “Reflecting that fact, the rate of Covid spread is already significantly higher than it was in August of last year.”
Carso said the best way to get all DV students into classrooms in the coming year is to require masks until the transmission rate goes down.
“That way, we would be most likely to prevent any outbreaks that could send students home and potentially disrupt the school year,” he said. “We would be well advised to stay ahead of the virus. If the virus gets ahead of us, it will be much more difficult to provide a normal school year for our students.”
He said he reached out to experts before introducing the motion.
“I’m a lawyer and a history professor,” he said. “I have a J.D. and a Ph.D. I personally consulted with some highly respected medical professionals — virologists and immunologists — in making my decision to put this motion forward.”
School board member Rosemary Walsh agrees masks are the best way to keep kids in school.
“If everyone is wearing masks it will cut down on the numbers having to quarantine, thereby keeping students in school and lessening the concern about Zoom instruction,” Walsh said in an email to the Courier.
She said other problems that may ensue if only a portion of the student population wore masks, and suggested a compromise between the two positions.
“Many parents expressed sincere fears about having their children in school with those not wearing a mask and fear of bullying from both sides,” said Walsh. “Having a procedure in place until we are no longer in the high range would be a compromise. We could work out some options of giving mask free times during the day and make arrangements for those that struggle to concentrate on school work while wearing a mask. My main concern is that all students are safely in school.”
This week, Pennsylvania health and education officials offered voluntary Covid-19 testing in K-12 schools as a way to preserve in-person schooling.
John D. Johnson, the parent of three children in the district, blasted the school board for not consulting with parents on their safety plan for the coming school year. He said the plan doesn’t protect kids because it doesn’t include a mask mandate or option for Zoom learning, with an insufficient action plan for social distancing, contract tracing, or quarantining.
On Aug. 20, the Wallenpaupack school district superintendent of schools announced that everyone in their buildings will be required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status as long as the transmission rate in Pike and Wayne counties remains high. “It is our hope that the mask requirement will be temporary in nature,” said Superintendent Keith Gunuskey.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original.
“We would be well advised to stay ahead of the virus. If the virus gets ahead of us, it will be much more difficult to provide a normal school year for our students.” Brian Carso