When: Donegal school board meeting, Sept. 9.
What happened: Superintendent J. Michael Lausch asked the board to set the threshold of positive COVID-19 cases requiring a building to be closed. The Department of Education recommends that if 5% of a building’s population were to be quarantined, that building only, rather than the entire district, would need to move to virtual instruction. Lausch stated that percentage would equate to about 50 people, students or staff, in the high school. The board passed the guidelines 9-0. The board also voted to give families until Sept. 27 to present a doctor’s note to exempt their children from needing to wear a mask.
The look of the meeting: The same atmosphere that has loomed over recent school board meetings in neighboring districts faced with mask mandates made its way to Donegal. The board moved the meeting to the high school auditorium to accommodate the higher-than-usual attendance. All board members in attendance were wearing face coverings. There was heightened police presence. Board President Oliver C. Overlander III asked that “everyone remain respectful” and watch their language while making public comments, acknowledging the tension and emotions evident in the room.
Quotable: “We have children in the audience,” Overlander appealed.
Public comment policy: A rule limited public comments to three minutes per person. Those that signed up to speak were called forward in small groups and asked to line up, socially distanced, behind one another until it was their turn to approach the microphone.
Public comments: Justin Neideigh, president of the district’s teachers union, Donegal Education Association, along with co-president Donald Seibert, spoke to the audience about the importance of the educational journeys the district’s students are undertaking. “We need to be fighting for the hearts and minds of the next generation,” Neideigh said. “We are here tonight to call for unity,” Seibert followed, as he praised students for their tenacity during the less-than-ideal times and urged them to continue in their excellence. Their comments, which did not touch the topic of masks, provided a stark contrast to other residents, and their words were applauded in a moment that sought unity.
Closing words: Following the last public comments, prior to the meeting being adjourned, board member Ron Melleby spoke to the crowd, “We’re trying our best. Hang in there.” He thanked the audience for their passion. Melleby signed off with, “Let’s just keep this thing together, OK?” echoing Donegal’s notion of One Tribe.