Area schools: No mask? No service
Starting Tuesday, several area schools will turn away students who are not wearing masks.
The state Department of Health order requiring masks for school students has created a furor among parents and members of the community, with threats of non-compliance circulating on social media.
Some parents have said they will not take their child to school with a mask when the mandate takes effect on Tuesday, placing the students on the frontline of the battle between parents and school districts, which are charged with complying with the order.
Districts must follow the order as prescribed by the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955.
According to information from the state Department of Education: “School officials who fail to adhere to the order could lose the protection of sovereign immunity and may personally face lawsuits from those who may be affected by any official’s attempt to ignore the order. Failing to implement or follow the control measures may expose individuals to personal liability under 42 Pa.C.S 8550 (relating to willful misconduct), as well as other remedies as provided by law. Failure to implement and follow the control measures under the Order also subjects a person to the penalty provisions of the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955.”
Tackling this issue head-on, several districts have notified parents that if a child comes to school without a mask, the school will provide them with one.
“If the student refuses to accept or wear the mask, their parent will be called and required to take their child home,” a letter from the East Lycoming School District Superintendent Michael Pawlik stated, adding that this also extends to school transportation.
A letter to the Jersey Shore community from district Superintendent Dr. Brian Ulmer asks that everyone remember that the masking directive did not come from the district.
“On Tuesday, our teachers want to do what they do best — educate your children. Regardless of your feelings, please respect our staff because this is not their fault,” Ulmer said.
He posted a link to the department of education’s website for frequently asked questions about masking and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Montoursville Area School District parents were informed that the district will follow the same rules from the last school year in dealing with students who refuse to wear masks.
“Students who refuse to wear a face covering will not be allowed on school transportation. If a student refused to wear a face covering in the buildings last year, they were redirected by a teacher. If they did not comply, they were sent to the office and dealt with by administration. If the student was given a chance to comply and did not, they were sent home,” the district announced on its website.
South Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Mark Stamm notified parents via the district website about the details of the mandate. The district administration acknowledged that “we fully anticipated this was likely to occur and have prepared for it throughout the summer.”
The health department’s order provides for exceptions to masking particularly when students are eating and drinking or when someone is working alone in a separate area. Masks will not be required outdoors.
Requests for information about obtaining an exemption in order to keep their child from having to wear a mask during school hour have been filling social media pages of area grassroots groups since the order was issued last week, prompting districts to specify who qualifies for an exemption and who can verify the necessity of an exemption.
“Medical necessity is determined when wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a medical health condition or disability,” Stamm’s letter read.
Parents must provide proof of medical necessity from a licensed health care provider and should indicate the underlying condition, according to Stamm and other superintendents in the area.
The masking order, which was announced early last week, applies to all K-12 students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, including those in brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units as well as day cares.