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Montoursville mulls over mask mandate until midnight

The clock ticked to one minute before midnight when the Montoursville Area School Board finally adjourned its meeting Tuesday night following remarks from numerous district residents mostly on the issue of masking of students.

Despite pleas from people, including many parents of students, the board took no action to go against the state Department of Health order requiring mask wearing in schools.

The nearly five-hour long virtual meeting included remarks from people opposed to masks who called for the resignation of board members and Superintendent Christina Bason.

School officials repeatedly made it clear they cannot simply go against the state order without facing legal action.

The board is already being sued by local residents for not challenging the order.

“We have a right to do what we want,” Curtis Twigg, of Trout Run, told the board. “We should have the right to send our kids to school without a mask.”

Board president Dave Shimmel said the board has no choice but to follow the order.

“We feel boxed in,” he said. “An illegal vote is not where we want to go.”

Board member William Ruffing said he didn’t feel qualified to tell people what to do with a decision on whether to mask students.

“This is not our idea,” he said.

He advised people who oppose masks to take the issue up with state lawmakers.

“They need to understand this is not us; we need to follow a mandate,” he said.

Karen DiSalvo, a local attorney, said it’s simply not a lawful order.

“I know you are concerned,” she told the board, “but you need to stand up. We do not have a public emergency which warrants this to be put into place.”

Some residents accused school officials of turning deaf ears to their concerns, claiming they don’t respond to emails about masking of students.

“When will the school board listen?” Amanda Wright asked.

Karen Niebert said people share the same goals of educating children and keeping them safe.

“I think masking helps protect children and other people,” she said.

She noted that district officials should consider improving ventilation in buildings to better protect students from COVID-19.

A mother of an elementary student said her son is incapable of wearing a mask for eight hours day in school but is unable to get a mask exemption.

As a result, he has developed sores on his face.

Another resident said children are incredibly low risk for being infected by the virus.

Cory Flick said the time has come for “true patriots to stand up.”

“They trust science instead of conspiracies,” he said.

With regard to masking, the safety of the general public, he argued, outweighs the rights of the individual.

“I don’t understand,” Flick said. “I hope we follow Department of Health and the CDC and the people who know what they are doing.”

Orthodontist Dr. Mark Oberheim told the board there is no COVID emergency.

“Quit putting your manufactured fears on our kids,” he said.

Other residents questioned why the board meeting was being held virtually rather than in a public setting.

Ruffing said virtual meetings allow people who might otherwise be afraid to talk to speak out on an issue.

Virtual meetings also prompt many people to tune in to the sessions, he added.

“I don’t believe that people in our district are afraid to speak out,” board member Ron Snell said. “There is no way that you will convince me otherwise.”

Snell called for holding meetings in a public setting and virtually.

Shimmel said the Zoom meetings will continue as long as the district is required to mask staff and students.

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