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Masks the focus of another contentious meeting for East Lycoming School Board

HUGHESVILLE — The agenda was short, but the East Lycoming School Board meeting went long as parents queued up to air their concerns about the district’s masking policy, focusing primarily on Ashkar Elementary.

Leading off the comment period, Amber Johnson, the mother of a student at Ashkar, questioned who “exactly is held responsible for the actions of the administration in this school district? Who runs the school? Who hires and fires administration in this school district?”

Johnson quoted a letter from the district concerning the masking policy stating that if students choose not to wear a mask, their parents will be called and they will be sent to a room to wait for their parents to arrive. During the time they are waiting the letter said that the students would continue to be educated.

In addition to Johnson, other parents reported that their children were “segregated” because their masks were deemed unacceptable by the administration at Ashkar. They also alleged that their children did not receive instruction during the time they were kept apart from other students.

Another parent, Jason Baney, implored the board to “do what’s right, not easy.”

Baney asked the board who made a decision to “scrutinize masks beyond what the mandate stated?”

District Superintendent Michael Pawlik told Baney that the predominate problem with many of the masks was that they were made of a mesh fabric.

“In my opinion, we are following the mandate as best as we can,” Pawlik said.

Baney countered that he did not feel that the mandate was being interpreted correctly.

Another issue raised by parents of students at Ashkar was the use of cards with stars on them to single out students whose masks were considered inappropriate.

“My son believed he was being given a star card,” Johnson shared, referring to the cards with stars on them that students are normally given at Ashkar for doing something noteworthy. “(He thought) that he was being rewarded for something great that he had done. He marched down to the office with that star on his paper and handed it over proudly.”

Others complained about the use of stars to segregate children, even going as far as comparing them to the use of stars by Nazis up to and during World War II.

“What exactly do we have in the walls of Ashkar? Are we rewarding children for a job well done or are we labeling them as unacceptable to society,” Johnson asked the board.

Some parents wanted to know if the protocols for masking were being followed correctly and asked for clarity about whether a doctor’s signature is needed for students to obtain exemptions to the order.

Pawlik told parents that in order for students to be medically exempted from wearing masks, there has to be medical documentation released to the district.

“What districts do is have the parents simply sign the release of records then the records are sent to the district for review. If a parent wants to have a doctor’s signature, we have allowed that for the purpose of masking,” he said.

In other business, the board approved the following BLaST guest teachers: Dominick Bragalone, Gerald Hammaker, Jesse Rocco and Shannon Rockwell. They also approved Jade Cordrey as an athletic volunteer for the 2021-22 junior high basketball season.

The next board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 26.

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