DASD School Board releases mask survey, holds regular meeting by Glenn Schuckers

The DuBois Area School Board has released the results of a survey regarding the results of  wearing masks in the buildings that started on September 7, 2021.

The survey showed that on September 6 there were the following cases of Covid in the schools: Oklahoma Elementary had one case and 4 children in quarantine, the Middle School had nineteen cases with 248 children in quarantine, and the High School had seven cases with 61 students in quarantine. The mask mandate was implemented on Tuesday, September 7 and by Thursday, September 16 the following numbers were recorded: Elementary schools zero cases, Middle School seven cases with seventeen children quarantined, the High School still reported  seven cases but only seventeen were quarantined. As of September 23, the date of the meeting, Wasson Elementary (the only elementary with any case) had one case and two children in quarantine, the Middle School had two cases of Covid with six in quarantine, and the High School had two cases of the virus with seven students in quarantine. 

Overall, the district went from a high of 27  cases of Covid and 313 quarantined on September 6, to five cases of the virus with 15 quarantined on September 23, seventeen days after the mask requirement went into effect. So cases went from 27 to five and the number of students in quarantine went from 313 to 15 following implementation of the mask mandate.

This survey was given to board members and not presented at the public meeting on September 23. It is presented in this article with the permission of District Superintendent Wendy Benton.

Regular board meeting

A number of district residents spoke out against the mask requirement at the Board’s regular meeting. The parents statements included one who said he had contacted local legislators and the governor who all said the matter had to be taken up with local officials after he had been told by those local officials (school board members) that any change would have to come from the state. 

Another person stated that the psychological harm caused by mask wearing would “do more harm than good.” Another cited a survey of schools where the local solicitor, the Beard Group of Altoona, appeared to have given different advice. Many of those in attendance stated that the agreed with one speaker’s opinion that wearing a mask should be up to the parents. Overall, about a dozen speakers out of the about forty at the meeting, were against the mask mandate and no one spoke in favor of the Board’s earlier decision.

Superintendent Wendy Benton addressed the crowd after the parents were finished, stating that the the District had to have a Health and Safety Plan in place in order to be eligible for federal grants. That Plan included updating the HVAC systems in schools to insure better filtration, changes in schedules to provide for better distancing, and money to purchase cleaning equipment and supplies so that the schools would be able to stay open. The plan also stated the District would abide by a mandate to require masks if it became necessary, so in effect the Board had already voted on the mandate. She said  no government entity had ever threatened to cut or reduce funding related to the mask mandate. 

Jennifer Dombeck, an attorney representing the Beard Group then explained why some districts appear to have different policies. She said that as solicitors, the attorneys give opinions and explanations to their clients but the decisions ultimately rest with the client. 

She said that choosing to defy the State Department of Health order “places increased liability risk on the District and individuals and jeopardizes the district’s insurance coverage.” She went on to say “Board members took an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution (of Pennsylvania); this includes compliance with mandates and orders by state agencies.”

Dombeck also presented a letter from the Department of Education to the Tamaqua School District (who had been cited by one of the speakers as a school that did  not enforce the mandate.) The letter states, in part, “The PDE has received information indicating that Tamaqua Area School District is flagrantly violating and does not intend to comply with the Order. Failure to implement and follow the control orders . . . subjects a person, which includes you as a member of the governing board, to the penalty provisions of the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955.”

She said following the receipt of the letter, the Tamaqua board voted and approved masking for students. 

She also said that there is no express provision for a religious exemption in the order and that three dozen child welfare organizations have issued statements that the masking mandate does not equate to child abuse, and “…there are exceptions to the Order; however a parent’s opposition to the Order is not one of them.”

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