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COVID and Mask Mandate Dominate QCSB Meeting
Written by Jennifer Frieze, Correspondent
2021-09-15

            Before the start of the Quakertown school board meeting, frustrated residents gathered in front of the entrance demonstrating their opposition to the state mandated mask policy. Police were present to maintain order as well as limit the number of residents attending the meeting.

            Inside the meeting, there were masked and unmasked attendees. Two police officers provided security.

After the pledge of allegiance, Kaylyn Mitchell, board president, made an attempt to set the tone for the meeting when she said, "I ask that everyone maintain a level of decorum. In this room. At this meeting."

            A litany of people signed up for public comment, and as residents began to voice their concerns, the tone became more impassioned and agitated.

            Some parents expressed concern that their children felt isolated and segregated from regular learning activities for not wearing a mask. Some residents accused the board and administration of bending to the mandate in order to keep steady funds coming in at the state and federal levels.

            Tori Rock of Milford Township, a 10th grader, shared her experience of wearing a mask for long periods of time. Rock has asthma and explained it is very hard for her to breathe. She claimed that the mask increases the number of attacks. "I need air to breathe." 

            Rock also explained that she has experienced negative social consequences for wearing masks all day. She pleaded with the board to keep masks optional.

            Kim Bell, a registered nurse residing in Trumbauersville, asked the board to consider the social and emotional impacts of masks and to streamline the mask exemption process.

            Brittany Smith, of Quakertown, revisited the blog post that Quakertown Superintendent Dr. William Harner sent out on September 25th. She dissected the language in the post and the difference between exception and exemption.

            Smith informed the board that she will be taking legal action against Harner and the rest of the school board if her rights and the rights of her children are not honored.

            At that time in the meeting, the board announced a break from public comment in order to allow for a short presentation from the professionals managing the HVAC and ventilation systems of school buildings.

            Environmental Control Systems, Inc. and Eccotrol are the designated companies that monitor and control the ventilation systems. There was a brief, but detailed, explanation of the systems and how they work.

            The adequacy of ventilation is checked twice a day and the goal is to increase ventilation and decrease aerosol dispersal. Board member Jonathan Kern requested data in regard to installed ventilation systems and the effectiveness of moving air to reduce COVID.

            After that information was presented public comment quickly resumed.

            Karin Majewski, of Milford Township, again brought up concerns about the language in Harner's blog and asked the board and Harner to answer her questions. 

            Mitchell stated that questions will be answered at the end and typically community members do not directly ask the board questions.

            Majewski replied that there is evidence of political tactics, power and control by Harner and the board. She then implored the community to demand Harner's resignation.

            At the opposite end of public comment, Michele Grida, of Richlandtown Borough, has a 7th grader attending school in the district. Grida said she had personal experience with COVID, having contracted the virus. She was on a ventilator in the ICU at St. Luke's Hospital and took 18 months to recover.

            Grida was in complete support of mandatory masking and requested virtual learning options through the district. In addition, she commented on the lack of professionalism among board members and the lack of civility during public comment.

            Many more residents took the opportunity to air their grievances to the board and staff members. After public comment, the board began a lengthy discussion about possible amendments to the health and safety plan.

            A heated discussion unfolded about the mask exception form. The filing of the form will trigger a cascading federal process involving IEP and 504 exceptions. Parents are then required to have their children participate in a number of evaluations to determine special needs and disabilities. However, the parents have the right to waive that process, releasing the school from any legal liability.

            The motion was made to adopt the content and format of the Central Bucks Exception request form under the guidance of Solicitor Jeff Garton.

            Harner and Mitchell disagreed with each other after the solicitor explained the legal process of the form and waiver.  "Dr. Harner, you always make it seem like we are doing something illegal. The solicitor just stated that we are not," said Mitchell. 

            As the dispute continued, a statement was made that a legal suggestion by the solicitor was not added to the original waiver by Nancianne Edwards, assistant to Superintendent Harner.

            Mitchell then pressed Edwards to tell the truth as to why the waiver was not modified as suggested by the solicitor.  "Are you a prosecutor or a board president?" replied Edwards.  "I wouldn't need to do this if you would speak the truth," said Mitchell.

            The board continued to deliberate on the issue.

            The board decided, in a 5-4 vote, that the  legal document will be made available for parents to sign. This will allow children to return to school and mask exceptions granted. Students will not be segregated or separated from their peers. They will also participate in all learning activities.

            Allowing the mask exception to apply to buses was also deliberated and voted on. That motion failed 5-4. However, the board requested that the solicitor research and provide more information for the next scheduled meeting.

            The board made a motion to take action and amend the current health and safety plan to take out the language "as required by law or regulation" in Section A regarding universal masking mandates. The motion failed 6-3.

            Another motion was made to add an amendment encouraging parents who report a self-verified, positive COVID result, to go to a medical facility and receive a verifiable COVID test. The district will only use verifiable case counts and report those to the county. The motion passed 5-4.

            Despite the fact that it was drawing close to midnight, several more residents and parents spoke just before adjournment during public comment. The comments varied from heated remarks and questions to thanking the board for their work.


 

 

 

 

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