About 30 visitors – some donning masks and some not – attended the Northern Tioga School Board meeting on Sept. 13, along with two law enforcement officers who stood at the back of the auditorium.
Parents shared frustration that the district was complying with the state’s order that masks be won in all Pennsylvania schools. School board members listened and said they’d look into a couple of specific issues, but largely didn’t address direct questions from visitors.
“With all due respect, I’m a little agitated,” said Kayla Lane of Osceola. “Are you guys even informing these children of the issues that may come from wearing the masks for a long period of time? Dizziness, shortness of breath, loss of concentration. Or, are we just going to yell at them? Because that’s what’s happening.”
Lane, who said she’s a nurse, said neither of her children can wear masks due to health issues and that her son in seventh grade was segregated from his classmates when he didn’t wear one to school.
“They’re focusing on the masks now and not their education,” said Lane to an eruption of applause.
Murray Johnson of Westfield also said his children are being separated due to not wearing masks.
“They’re put in a room out of sight. They’re there to get an education, not get political,” he said. “I’m hearing a lot of talk about cyber school. What’s going to happen what you have no students?”
Brittany Lind, of Tioga, said, “I’m jealous ya’ll got segregated. I was forced to walk my six-year-old out of R.B. Walter,” adding that she filed a mask exemption form due to her son’s chronic asthma.
“You’re denying free public education. I filed a complaint against the school district and I outlined what you’re doing wrong with the Department of Health guidelines,” said Lind, then asking Superintendent Dr. Diana Barnes, “When can my son attend school, Diana? When can he return?”
Lori Lockett said when she tried to get a mask exemption form for her child, she was told “it didn’t matter.”
“Scientifically, it’s not healthy to breath in your own carbon dioxide. It weakens the immune systems and causes adverse physiological issues. It’s been proven masks don’t stop COVID,” said Lockett. “This is all about government money and control and nothing more.”
Danielle Pierce of Westfield said her kids touch their faces more often while wearing masks, risking the spread of germs.
“These masks do not prevent children from getting anything,” said Pierce. “All we’re doing is diminishing kids’ ability to breath, focus and learn. Are we not an academic and educational institution?”
Maria Phelps from Elkland questioned the board about what constitutes an appropriate mask, saying she sent her daughter to school in a more “breathable” mask, but that she was also segregated in a separate room.
“I understand you guys are really tied on this thing, however when are we going to start fighting this? There are other districts not complying,” said Phelps. “This is not OK for a virus that has a 99.7% survival rate. I’m pretty sure the flu has lower survivor rate and we’ve never done this before.”
Barnes said she’d look further into guidelines about what the CDC and PA Department of Health considered an appropriate mask.
Ashley Lovejoy, a Tioga resident and a teacher in another school district, said, “While we’re all sitting here angry and frustrated, we want to lock arms with you. We want to help battle this.”
She continued, “A mandate to me makes no sense when my kids can go to the park, the grocery store, eat in a restaurant without cloth over their faces. We want them to fight for what they believe in, to have their voice.”
Josh Shumack of Knoxville said his boys, ages 5 and 7, no longer like school due to having to wear masks.
“Yesterday, I had to fight with them to go. They’re saying, ‘Daddy, don’t send me to school, I can’t breathe,’” said Shumack, adding that he’s a military veteran who hasn’t worn masks throughout the pandemic. “I’m teaching my sons to live and to be free. I served this country and fought for this country so we could be free and not put a mask on.”
Michael Hostrander of Westfield questioned the board about funding the district has received, presumably referencing the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.
At previous meetings, the board allocated funds from CRRSA for remote learning expenses, equipment expenses and a course recovery program and its tutors/teachers. Schools are expected to get the third wave of ESSER funds, with NTSD slated to receive $5,237,633, which has not yet been allocated.
The next meeting of the Northern Tioga School board is 7 p.m. Oct. 11.