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UPSD Board Sticks with Mandatory Masks
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2021-09-14

            Amid objections from many parents, the Upper Perkiomen School Board voted Tuesday to continue its current face mask policy. The members approved an action item amending the district's revised Health and Safety plan that complies with a recent order issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health mandating their use by all students, staff and visitors inside all schools in reaction to rising COVID-19 cases.

            Several school board members described the mask requirement as their best option to maintain in-person learning. The district's hands are tied, according to Member Kerry Drake.
"If having everyone wearing masks keeps us from going back to virtual -- and anything better is better than virtual -- then it's a good thing to do," Drake said.

            Shana Jordan, of Pennsburg, described the five members who voted for the item as cowards. Jeff Borchelt called them "a bunch of tyrants." The Red Hill resident assured them he would be running for school board.

            Jennifer Beltz, a Marlborough resident, described the members' actions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic as appalling. Cynthia Smith expressed her disappointment in the board's vote.  "This is not how our society should work," said Smith, a Hereford resident.

            Board President Melanie Cunningham addressed the criticisms near the end of the meeting, which started five days earlier. First, she reminded the audience that the members are volunteers.

            "I don't believe there are any cowards on the board," Cunningham said. "It's not the district's responsibility to keep people safe on your own time. You do what you need to do. We do what we need to do on school time to keep everyone safe."

            Earlier in the meeting, the board president explained her decision to recess to the original meeting on Sept. 9 after seven minutes. Cunningham said she had two options: "remove and embarrass" the group of people who refused to wear their face masks in the middle school auditorium or end it and reconvene virtually.

            I would have been crazy not to have a contingency plan," she said. "I had to think of the welfare of everyone at the meeting."

            According to Cunningham, the controversy has put the district in danger of losing bus drivers and other staff members. She said they are being "accosted at the grocery store. They should not have to worry about being drawn into a conversation about an issue in which they don't have a vote."

            Keith McCarrick and Raeann Hofkin voted against the measure. McCarrick said he objected to the state's intervention into the district's business, and expressed a preference to allow the parents to make masking and vaccination decisions about their children. He called the order from the Department of Health reprehensible.

            Hofkin decried the mask mandate as a form of tyranny. She asked rhetorically how much more "duress" will society tolerate.  "Wake me up from this nightmare," Hofkin said prior to the vote. "We the people are not free. We need to unify, not comply."
            Stephen Cunningham did not cast a vote, citing poor cell service during the meeting, held on Zoom. After reconnecting to the meeting, he said he would have voted with the majority. Peg Pennepacker did not participate.

            A majority of audience speakers asked the board to give parents the choice to decide if their children wear a mask in school. Several also requested that administrators waive a requirement to have a physician sign off on a medical exemption.

            A handful asked administrators to stop conducting contact tracing. Geoff Wilson, a Pennsburg resident, described it as an "absolute charade."

            The district has no option but to continue with contact tracing, according to Superintendent Allyn Roche. He said that in terms of the mask exemptions, the district is following the exact same process as last year, which is directly in line with the current Department of Health order. Relying only on a parent's signature for a mask exemption would violate the guidance issued by Acting Secretary Alison Beam, according to Solicitor Kyle Somers.
            COVID-19 cases in the six Montgomery County municipalities of the district have spiked in recent weeks. According to a presentation by the superintendent, the incident and positivity rates have reached the highest of four levels for the weeks ending Aug. 26 and Sept 2.

            In August, administrators presented a plan by which they would change their recommendation for masks from optional to reccommended. Roche said the cases in both categories would need to be in the Substantial or High category for two consecutive weeks.

            Member Dana Hipszer noted that the original Health and Safety Plan would have mandated the current masking standard. Judith Maginnis concurred, stating that the district needed to do what was best for the most students


 

 

 

 

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