Regarding the last school board meeting on Monday, August 23, I attended the meeting until 10:30 PM which was through the District’s Health & Safety Plan update and resident comments. Nearly a week later, the school board meeting video is not yet available — the District offers the following explanation for the delay on their website:
Due to the need to edit profane comments by audience members captured on the recording of the August 23, 2021 Regular School Board Meeting video, the recording will be posted online as soon as editing is complete.
I do not make a blog post about a meeting unless I have attended it or watched the video. Beyond the Health & Safety Plan Update and subsequent resident comments, I have no idea what occurred during the remainder of the meeting. The August 23 school board meeting agenda was lengthy, 122 pages long. To be clear, I attended the meeting 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM but left following the Priority Discussion (pg. 2 of agenda).
Because the new school year is upon us, and it is unclear when the District will release the edited school board meeting video, this post is limited to the Health & Safety Plan Update, which includes the mask mandate.
Prior to the start of the school board meeting there was an “Unmask T/E” rally held outside of Valley Forge Middle School with about fifty people in attendance carrying signs, posters, and flags.
The anti-mask school board protest followed the heated debates about “critical race theory” (CRT) from the previous school board meeting in June. Across the country, school board meetings have become the ‘perfect battlegrounds’ for vicious culture wars, and T/E is no exception.
After the Unmask T/E rally, protestors opposing the mask mandate attended the school board meeting. My impression was that the audience was about equally divided between those “for” and those “against” the District’s proposed mandate.
After the Health & Safety Plan presentation by the District, residents lined up and intense, emotional comments went on for hours – each commentor given a 3-minute limit, with the District attorney Ken Roos serving as the timekeeper. Although many of those who spoke were respectful and measured in their remarks (both supporting and opposing the mandate), there were some over-the-top residents who choose to yell and use inappropriate language when sharing their stance on a mask mandate.
School board president Michele Burger was relentless during the resident comment period, continuously stopping the process to point out audience members who were unmasked (or where masks were “below the nose”) with a constant threat to stop the in-person meeting and go virtual. Another continual remark from the president was to point to the District’s civility policy.
Interestingly, resident Doug Anestad commented to the school board that the board meeting was not legally permitted to “go virtual” – a point which the District attorney Ken Roos disputed.
One resident asked the question about what happens if your child doesn’t wear a mask. The response from the Superintendent was vague. Dr. Gusick responded that the District’s education program required mask wearing and that masks would be available.
The parent followed up and again asked specifically, “What” would happen to her child if they did not wear a mask. It process is unclear as to what would happen. Say it’s an older student who may enter the high school wearing a mask and then takes it off and refuses to wear it.
What’s the procedure (Plan B?) for mask noncompliance – Are parents called? Is the student sent home? If the student continues to daily refuse to wear a mask at school, what is the next step? If a parent is strongly opposed to mask-wearing, it is not a stretch to think that his or her child may share that belief. (This remark assumes that there is not a medical and/or religious reason for not wearing a mask).
There was a police presence both outside during the anti-mask mandate rally and then inside Valley Forge Middle School for the meeting. In my opinion, rather than a constant threat to stop the meeting, perhaps after one or two strong warnings, actual action and the removal of those audience members not in compliance would have been in order.
Ultimately the school board voted 9-0 to approve the District’s Heath & Safety Plan update, which requires all “individuals aged two and over to wear a face covering while indoors in any District building and on school buses regardless of vaccination status. Masking is optional but welcome during outdoor activities such as recess, activity or physical education …”.
In closing, with the start of school — my best wishes to the students, parents and staff for a very successful school year!
On a personal note, our only child is a high-risk OBGYN fertility surgeon at the University of Washington at Seattle (yes, the hospital where the first known COVID patients arrived in late February 2020). Lyndsey has delivered high-risk babies (many to Moms with COVID) while wearing a full hazmat uniform for the last eighteen months. I support vaccines, mask wearing and anything else that science deems may possibly help rid the world of COVID.