Pattye Benson

Community Matters

UMASD

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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