Hempfield school board

The Hempfield school board meets Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. 

Masks were, once again, a hot topic at school board meetings across Lancaster County on Tuesday, particularly at Hempfield and Elizabethtown Area school districts.

At one point, someone who attempted to address the Elizabethtown Area school board during the public comment period was escorted out by a police officer because he refused to wear a mask.

Due to a recent Pennsylvania Department of Health order, masks are required by everyone – including visitors – in school buildings. The order aligns with an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the county and beyond.

The speaker escorted out – Stewart Williammee – was one of dozens of residents who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting, most of which complied with the mask requirement but spoke out against it. The meeting was moved to the high school auditorium to accommodate the crowd.

Dan Matthews, a speaker who followed Williamee, demanded the school board to resign if it won't return the choice to mask to parents. 

"You can take your masks, you can take your Marxism, and you can stick it," he said. 

At Hempfield, about 60 residents attended the meeting, with about two-thirds not wearing masks. Two school board members, Chris Smiley and Dylan Bard, did not wear masks.

The meeting also moved to the high school performing arts center. About 25 speakers addressed the board. Some were doctors describing the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance masking and other prevention strategies are to prevent further spread of the virus. A slight majority of commenters, though, were against the mask requirement.

Those who expressed opposition to the mask mandate ranged from respectfully requesting personal freedom to choose what’s best for their child, to questioning the doctors in attendance and attempting to dissect the Constitution and state law. 

“Is it really a small price to pay?” Jason Jenkins said of wearing masks after doctors said doing so is for the good of the community. “Because if the government says we need to amputate everybody’s left arm – it’s a small price to pay – how many are going to (obey)?”

To the doctors in attendance, Donald Meacham said, “I’m no doctor. I love doctors. And I’m no doctor. But the doctors that came up here are wrong. They’re bullies.”

Dr. Heidi Kistler, a family medicine doctor with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, was one of a handful of doctors to defend the use of masks. She said arguing over personal freedoms is an “extremely dangerous distraction from the battle we have to be fighting.”

Dr. Alexandra Solosko, a pediatrician with LG Health, speaking in scrubs ahead of a shift at work, said layered mitigation strategies, like masks, are akin to using a seat belt, using rear-view mirrors and obeying traffic signs despite having good brakes in the car.

“There’s no question, at this point of the pandemic, that mitigation measures work,” she said.

Also a topic of discussion at Hempfield was whether transgender athletes should be able to compete with the gender with which they identify. The administration was supposed to give an update on the issue, but that discussion did not finish before Tuesday night’s print deadline.

Though the decision revolves around athletics and not bathrooms or locker rooms, a couple of parents seemed enraged by the idea of a transgender student changing in front of their children. Others said it’s unfair for a girls’ sports team to compete with or against a student-athlete assigned male at birth.

Jamie Beth Cohen, an outspoken supporter of transgender inclusion in sports, questioned the board’s intent as it’s collecting legal advice by the conservative law firm Independence Law Center. She pointed out that the federal Title IX law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and on the basis of sex.

“It actually doesn’t get any more clear than that,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.”

Correspondent Diane Bitting contributed to this report.

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