When: Elizabethtown Area school board meeting, Aug. 10.
What happened: Despite the surge in COVID-19 cases in Lancaster County, students in the Elizabethtown Area School District will not be required to wear masks when the school year gets underway Aug. 23. Instead, masking up will be a matter of personal choice, and students who wish to wear face coverings as protection against the coronavirus may do so. The same applies to district staff. This approach was outlined in the district’s health and safety plan, which the school board approved in a 6-3 vote. Board member Erin Grosh, participating via Zoom, voted against the plan. Also voting no were Michelle Pelna and board Vice President M. Caroline Lalvani. None of the board members or administrators wore masks at the meeting, and only a couple audience members were masked.
Also: Students will attend school in person five days a week, with the E-town Cyber program available for families who wish to do virtual schooling, according to the plan. Staff and students will not be required to be vaccinated to work or attend school. The district’s face-covering protocols are subject to state mandates, which the district is legally required to follow.
Crowd shows up: More than 40 citizens filled several rows of seats in the high school Instructional Media Center classroom, with some outside in the IMC listening as the meeting was streamed. And more than two dozen people, each with a five-minute time limit, gave nearly two hours of public comment, some emotional and punctuated with applause. Six of those speakers participated through Zoom. The Aug. 10 meeting was the first time that members of the public could attend in person since the onset of the pandemic last year. Freedom of choice for parents was the overriding theme for the majority of speakers, some of whom questioned the effectiveness of masks and claimed they caused physical and emotional problems for children, including anxiety and depression.
Public comment: “I implore you. Let us choose for our kids,” pleaded Jim Emery. “No more gloom and doom. We’re done with masks, mandates, mitigation,” Sharon Ogilvie said. Ogilvie added that if parents are concerned, their children can wear masks at school. “Freedom of choice is for everyone,” she said, eliciting raucous applause. But some urged the district to require masking for students and staff as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This disease is not gone, and it’s not risk-free for children,” said Mary Auker-Endres. “Please help me keep my child and our children safe.” Physicians Dr. Mark Collin and Dr. Jay Zimmerman, also on Zoom, emphasized the importance of masks and social distancing as mitigation strategies and the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Board member comment: “I feel like we’re failing our community if we go about as business as usual right now,” said Grosh. “The reality is we still live in a pandemic. And basically, half of our student body is not even eligible to be vaccinated.” Grosh suggested requiring masks for children under age 12 until vaccines are available to them and those who want to get vaccinated do so.
Changes possible: The board discussed how the health and safety plan could be changed if there were a high number of infections. Other than a state mandate, the board must approve any changes. That could be done at a regular meeting, or an emergency meeting could be called.
Other business: The board approved the hiring of Jason D’Amico as the new high school principal, replacing Maura Hobson. D’Amico has been assistant high school principal in the Penn Manor School District. The board also approved resignation of middle school Principal Kara Schoessler, effective Sept. 24. The district previously announced the departure of Schoessler, who will become middle school principal in the Lower Dauphin School District. Also resigning is director of technology Brian Lownsbery, effective Sept. 12. Lownsbery said he is taking a technology position with the Camp Hill School District.