The mask mandate for students, faculty, staff and visitors at all Wellsboro schools is in place until it is lifted by the state.
That was part of the message provided by Superintendent Brenda Freeman during her report to the board at the Sept. 14 meeting. The meeting was held virtually; the Sept. 7 work session was adjourned before it began when several audience members refused to wear a mask.
Freeman said the requirement to wear a facial mask is required of everyone indoors any of the district’s buildings. Students have mask breaks and opportunities to be outdoors where masks are not required throughout the day, she said.
“We do understand that it is a long day in school and we are doing our best to stay in compliance with the masking order and give students time without masks,” she said.
Initially, the board voted to require masks when the community transmission rate is substantial or high and not require masks when the rate was low or moderate. Soon after that, the Department of Health issued a directive that masks would be required in public and private schools, day cares and preschools.
Parents listening in voiced their objections during the public comment and in the Chat box.
Carla Amarosa disagrees with the district’s decision. “The board is allowing the state to bully it by threatening the district with loss of its sovereign immunity and saying the district and individual board members could could be sued,” she said.
“I feel like you’re hiding behind excuses and you’re supposed to do what the majority of parents want,” said Amarosa.
The district has yielded control to the state, which in turn has given control to the federal government, she said.
“Our school board is giving away their control based on fear and emotions, and the ones who suffer are the children because they are unhealthy, mask wearing is unhealthy to the children, mentally and physically,” Amarosa continued.
Freeman said the only way around the masking order is to have an exemption through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or IDEA. School districts that permit parents to sign off without evidence that a student has a medical condition or disability can face consequences, said Freeman.
Megan Mickey said she sought exemptions to the masking order for her children and two local doctors refused, telling her the schools asked that they not write exemptions. She asked the board to look into how neighboring schools are able to allow the parent exemptions.
“My understanding is South Williamsport is using those exemptions instead of a doctor. If you could look into that and understand why those schools can legally do that and why our school can’t do the same thing, that would be helpful,” Mickey said.
Board member David Messineo said his understanding is that the doctor’s employers are telling physicians not to sign exemptions, not school districts.
“We have been in contact with our solicitor and many other law firms across the state to find out what school districts must comply with,” Freeman said. “We’re told these cases are settled in court, not at a board meeting. We cannot separate ourselves from this order by law.”
Enrollment at this time is similar to the 2020-21 school year, Freeman said with 1,454 students this year compared to 1,456 last year. This year, there are 40 enrolled in the district’s online academy compared to 100 last year and 106 homeschooled students to 121 in 2020-21.
Cyber charter students have increased slightly, from 55 to 60 this year. Nine students are enrolled in private schools; that record was not kept in 2020-21.
Of the district’s enrolled students, there are 19 remote learners. The majority, 12, are in the high school with three in the middle school and four in the elementary school.