Pattye Benson

Community Matters

anti-mask mandate

Debate Over Mask Mandate Moves from School Board Meeting to Courtroom – Lawsuit Filed in Tredyffrin Easttown School District!

Covid-19 cases are on the rise, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. As Covid-19 cases among kids continue to climb, it’s also important to keep students in school.

According to the headlines from the Philadelphia Inquirer today, “COVID-19 cases among Pa. school-age children are 10 times higher than they were last year”. The article cites a variety of factors for the surge, including the highly transmissible delta variant, the return of in-person school, and an increase in testing.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, child covid-19 cases increased 240% since July.

So … what about the mask requirement for schools? We know that masks alone do not stop the spread of coronavirus, but should mandating masking be part of the whole package?

Masking was the subject of a heated debate at the recent TESD school board meeting, with parents arguing for and against. But for some local parents, the face mask battle did not end with the School Board’s unanimous vote on August 23 to approve the Health and Safety Plan and Covid-19 mitigation plan which included the mask mandate.

Nor did the anti-mask opposition cease when Gov. Tom Wolf announced a mask mandate on August 31 for all Pennsylvania school students aged two and over. (The state mask mandate order took effect on Tuesday, September 7.)

Less than a week after the Department of Health ordered universal masking in Pennsylvania schools, the Republican Senate President and a group of parents filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Wolf administration’s new mask mandate. The lawsuit asserts that the Acting Health Secretary failed to comply with state law when she ordered masks to be worn in all Pennsylvania public and private schools, as well as childcare facilities. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the masking order – the court scheduled a hearing for Sept. 16.

What is very clear is that when it comes to mandating masks for students, parents are divided. Lots of parents are thrilled. Lots of parents are angry.  And some parents are going to court hoping to reverse course.

On Wednesday, September 8, four District parents/guardians (Sarah Marvin, Andrew McLellan, Alicia Geerlings and David Goveranti) filed a lawsuit against T/E School District in the Pennsylvania Eastern District Court alleging that the mask mandate is unlawful and that, “… the School Board has no legal authority to require students to wear masks or to test students without their consent.”

Representing the parents is Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.  To read the lawsuit, click the link below.

To offset legal costs for the lawsuit, a an “Unmask TE” GoFundMe page was created and to date has raised over $7,100 – https://www.gofundme.com/f/unmask-te-support-freedom-of-choice

Representing the District in the lawsuit are defense attorneys Deborah Stambaugh, Christina Gallagher and Brian Elias from Wisler Pearlstine, LLP. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 14, 9 AM at the Eastern District Court in Philadelphia.

TE School District Says Yes to Mask Mandate but Where’s the Vaccine Requirement for Employees?

Just as schools are about to open in TESD on August 30, there is news from states where schools have already opened, about hospitals treating growing numbers of kids who have COVID-19. This is happening as schools are resuming in-person learning, leading to mask mandates, anti-mask mandates and frustration from parents, students and the community.

Experts don’t know if kids are getting sicker with the delta variant of COVID, but they do know that this variant is more contagious, meaning more people, including kids who can’t get vaccinated, are catching it. In our District, it was determined that a mask mandate is the safest way to start the school year.

According to Dr. Gusick’s August 13 letter to T/E parents, COVID mitigation protocol which took effect August 16 includes a mask requirement for all individuals aged two and over while indoors in any District building and on school buses.

The letter went on to state that masking is optional during outdoor activities such as recess, activity, or PE. The District’s mask requirement follows the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines which states, “… Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status…”

On Monday, August 23, 7:30 PM, there is regular school board scheduled at Valley Forge Middle School (note location change from Conestoga High School).  Based on Gusick’s letter all who attend the school board meeting must wear a mask — and how will that requirement be enforced?

There is an “Unmask TE”, anti-mask mandate rally planned for Monday night at 5 PM at Valley Forge Middle School, before the school board meeting. For some parents who oppose the mask mandate, they believe that their “individual rights and freedom” are at stake.

According to the Unmask TE flyer – “We are a group of parents supporting our kids physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  We believe parents have the right to make health decisions for their children because every child is unique.” From a parent in the Unmask TE group, I received an email clarifying that, we ” … do not oppose masks but instead oppose mask mandates and believe masks should be optional.”

Given the essential goal of returning all students to a full, five-day, in person schedule, will those who oppose the mask mandate impact that achievement?  If parents are given a choice between masks and virtual school, which would they prefer?

From CDC, it is believed that mask wearing diminishes the risk of infection by the Delta variant – a risk that is likely to rise as temperatures cool and we spend more time indoors.

Making an argument in favor of a mask requirement in schools, a friend in South Carolina, wrote to me, “They’re just masks. They can be a little uncomfortable and annoying sometimes, but that’s it. They’re manageable. They save lives and – despite some people’s apparent fears – they don’t reflect on their wearers’ politics.”

Another point on which most medical experts agree is that kids should be “ringed” by vaccinated parents, teachers, and school staff.   Our District is mandating mask wearing for all, yet there is no vaccine mandate for those who work in the schools.  

In my opinion, there should be two choices for those that work in the District’s buildings – either you are vaccinated or agree to weekly COVID testing. I accept that my position is probably not favorable with members of TEEA (Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association), the District’s teachers union.

To be clear, leaders of both large national teachers unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — have both voiced support for vaccine mandates for school staff. They do however add the caveat, that the details should be negotiated locally.

The school board in Upper Merion Area School District (UMASD) voted unanimously to mandate all teachers and staff either show proof of COVID vaccination or or be tested twice a week for COVID (and wear a mask) when school opens. Interesting to note that Jeffery Sultanik is the solicitor for UMASD as he is for TESD! To read the Resolution on Amendments to to the UMASD Health & Safety Plan , click here.

My question to our school board is, why are YOU not requiring vaccines for everyone working in our schools?

If students must mask up for safety, their teachers should have to get their shots or participate in weekly COVID testing. As masks are mandated for all those that enter District buildings – COVID vaccines or weekly testing should also be required for all employees.

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