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East Lyco keeps mask medical exemption requirement

The auditorium of Hughesville High School during the public comment period of the East Lycoming School Board special meeting on Monday night. SUN-GAZETTE STAFF PHOTO

The East Lycoming School Board voted to require medical exemption verification for students who want to attend school without a mask during a special meeting this week.

The 8-1 vote followed more than three hours of comments from those who either attended the meeting or tuned into the session online.

Board members Richard Michael, Michael Mamrak, Donna Gavitt, Tara Buebendorf, Shannon McConnell-Barlett, Richard Bradley, Lisa McClintock and Robert Heckrote voted yes.

Rose Trevouledes voted no.

Most of the comments came from district residents who favored making masks optional.

Some claimed the masks failed to protect anyone from COVID-19 infections, while others noted that they create medical and mental health issues for children.

Amber Johnson, of Franklin Township, told board members they are supposed to be “advocating for all kids.”

“We are asking you to give parents the decision on masking or not masking their children,” she told the board. “When are we going to finally stand up and say enough is enough? You know that none of this makes any sense.”

The board passed a policy this summer to make masks optional before the state Department of Health later issued an order that schools require masks for students, staff and visitors.

Tracy Lunger, a teacher in the district, told the board she sees how kids are distracted in the classroom while wearing masks. She said parents deserve the choice of whether to mask their children.

Amanda Waldron noted that numbers of COVID infections are increasing in Lycoming County.

“I support parental choice, but I am pretty sure parents don’t feel comfortable about their kids infecting others,” she said.

Some questioned the legality of masking kids.

Michael Pawlik, district superintendent, said district officials are constantly considering the legalities of the masking order.

Many districts continue to believe the state masking order “holds weight,” he said.

Local school districts in the county that approved parental exemptions in lieu of medical verification were done against the advice of their legal counsel, according to Pawlik.

“Nobody likes this situation,” he said. We want to see our kids happy. We are in between this unbelievable rock and a hard place.”

One parent said her child used to love school, but now struggles as never before.

She said parents will remove their kids from school and enroll them in a cyber school if the mask order continues to be upheld.

Board members took turns weighing in on the issue.

“We cannot ignore the mandate,” McClintock said.

McConnell-Barlett said she is neither for or against masks.

“I want everyone to be safe,” she said. “I honestly don’t believe the fight is with this board.”

Gavitt told residents she applauds their activism.

“”I am with you on a lot of things,” she said. “I hate mandates.”

She added that there could be consequences in voting against the medical exemption requirement.

“I beg you to stand by us until this issue is dissolved. Not resolved, dissolved. It won’t be long,” she said.

Bradley told residents that board members want what is best for the district and students.

“My main concern is to keep the school doors open and to do it safely for everyone who is in these buildings,” he said.

Heckrote said he heard what residents were saying.

“I don’t think masks do much,” he said. “I absolutely look forward to this mandate being short-lived.”

Trevouledes said kids should not endure school days that bring headaches and anxiety and other medical issues.

She urged parents not to pull their children from schools.

“Please work with us. I believe this will be short-lived,” she said. “I think you know I am not in favor of the masks.”

Mamrak said, “Bear with us. I know it is not enjoyable.”

Following the meeting, the board went into an executive session to consider legal and personnel matters.

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