Warwick High School

Warwick High School

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is based on a meeting that happened prior to the CDC guidance on masking in schools was released. For updated guidance from the CDC and what that means for Lancaster County schools, click here. 

When: Warwick school board meeting, July 20.

What happened: Nearly 80 people crowded into the meeting, many pleading with the board to not approve a Health and Safety Plan that would outline how students can safely return to school in August. In the end, the board approved the plan by a 5-3 vote, with Nelson Peters, Lisa Hill and Matthew Knouse voting against it. Voting in favor were Michael Landis, Millard Eppig, Todd Rucci, Leslie Penkunas and Edward Browne. Debra Wenger was absent.

Background: The Health and Safety Plan is a requirement of the American Rescue Plan Act, which provides funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The funding is intended to cover costs related to the effects of the pandemic on schools. The Health and Safety Plan is intended to outline how the district will, to the greatest extent practical, implement prevention and mitigation policies in line with the most up-to-date guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the reopening and operation of school facilities. Depending on CDC guidelines at the time school opens, the plan covers possible mask wearing, social distancing, hand washing, cleanliness in the schools, contact tracing, and appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities.

Superintendent speaks: Superintendent April Hershey said that the district has not yet applied for the relief fund grant.

She also reported that Health and Safety Plans are still required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. And Hershey told parents the district has posted frequently asked questions about the plan on its website.

Misconceptions: Chief Financial Officer Nathan Wertsch  explained that there are a number of misconceptions surrounding the district’s requirements, if those funds are accepted. He said the first misconception is that if the district declines the funds and a state or federal mandate comes out that masks are required, that the district would not have to comply. The second misconception, he said, is that the district will be required to implement critical race theory  curriculum if it accepts the funds. Noe Ortega, the Pennsylvania secretary of education, has testified that there is no connection between critical race theory and the emergency relief funding.

Board discussion: In voting against the plan, Knouse said that he had been wrestling with whether or not the district should accept emergency relief  funding that calls for providing a plan for health and safety. His conclusion “is to do what is best for the family, under the guidance of the mother and father.” Rucci, who voted in favor, noted that much can change by the time the school year begins and even during the school year. His priority, he said, is for the safety of Warwick’s more than 4,000 students, their families, and staff.

Audience reactions: Those attending the meeting expressed displeasure with the decision. One parent, Emily Zimmerman, came up to the podium to say “I am ashamed” to the school board. She had previously implored the school board to not require masks, social distancing or vaccines for students in the schools. As elected officials, she said she hoped that the school board would follow the will of the people.Another parent, Sue Riggs, said that 99.97% of children survive COVID-19, and that any deaths were statistically insignificant. She also expressed opposition to masks, mitigation efforts, and vaccines.

Quotable: “"I beg you to change this,” Riggs said.

Other business: The board reappointed Hershey as superintendent for another five years. Before reelecting Hershey, they first had to accept her resignation from her previous contract, then reinstate her with a new contract that will be effective from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2026. Hershey’s contract calls for a yearly salary of $205,000, an increase of $14,148 over her previous salary of $190,852. She has served as superintendent since June 2009.

Resignation: The board accepted the resignation of Ryan Berardi as principal at Kissel Hill Elementary School. Berardu, who had been the principal of Kissel Hill since 2014, will be moving to a private sector company position in training and development.

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