William Fithian

William Fithian, a senior at Garden Spot High School.

Editor’s note: Eastern Lancaster County School District is permitting parents to opt their children out of the state’s school mask mandate without obtaining a doctor’s signature proving an allowable medical, mental health or disability exception under the state’s order.

To the members of the Eastern Lancaster County school board:

As students at Garden Spot High School, we offer our concerns about the new mask exemption policy put in place here in Elanco. As a district, we should be following what the Pennsylvania Department of Health and medical professionals deem to be appropriate and best practice.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and outspoken parents without advanced medical and science degrees should not be allowed to determine the fate of our community. Masking in public schools is highly recommended by licensed experts throughout the medical field. Many districts right here in Lancaster County are enforcing the masking order from the state Department of Health; how is Elanco separate or different or immune to rules and disease?

As learners at this district, we have been taught the “Spartan Way”: doing what’s right, doing our best, and doing for others.

Doing what’s right: Countless health experts have suggested we mask up in school. As a community we are not listening to experts, and as learners we have broken the first pillar of the Spartan Way.

Doing our best: The best course of action for the public’s health is for everyone to mask up. Doctors, scientists and health experts have been telling us what is best, but once again Elanco is breaking another pillar of the Spartan Way.

Doing for others: Not masking up in school, especially when we have high-risk students and staff all throughout our campus, is going against our third pillar. By wearing masks, we limit the spread of all germs, not just the novel coronavirus.

The Spartan Way, which learners are supposed to uphold, is being broken in every pillar under this new policy.

We now have irrefutable evidence, as a nation and as a community, that school is the best place for young people to be during the day. The social, emotional and educational interactions with peers and trusted adults provide a crucial psychological support for my peers and for me. The worst way to learn — in fact, the worst way to live — is in isolation at home on a computer. We must do everything in our power to keep our schools open; we must give young people every opportunity to thrive in their classrooms and extracurricular activities. But in order to do so, we must abide by best practices for our community’s health; we must mask up!

Furthermore, the learners and faculty need to have a voice in these decisions. This is especially true for our faculty and staff — the people who make our schools run. Without the help of teachers, administrators and other staff, we students would not be getting the quality education we need. So, when making a decision that puts their health at risk, their opinions need to be heard; they are the ones carrying the load of this new policy. The parents fighting against the state’s mask order do not attend our school; they have careers, jobs and priorities other than our district’s day-to-day policies. So, why are we allowing them to basically take charge of our daily health policies?

Lastly, students are always being taught to follow the rules. But the district is directly breaking the rules of the state mask mandate. This is no simple street law; this is a public health concern. The mandate was put in place for a reason, and a single group of people should not have the power to overrule public health policy.

As students, we wish only the best for our community’s health, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure the well-being of those around us, especially the most vulnerable. The last thing we want is to be online again; unfortunately, by the way things are going, we anticipate “Zoom school” in our very near future. We ask you to please reconsider the best interest of the students, the teachers, the administrators and all other faculty who are directly entrusted to your care.

Our voices matter; our health matters; our lives matter.

This letter was co-signed by the following students: Roxanne Avril, Abigail Commander, Julia Ellsworth, Julia Faust, Basia Ford, Paula Gauthier, Natalija Gligorevic, Brooke Gockley, Natasha Guzman, Rocky Heisig, Magdalene Martin, Leah Moua, Lola Stillman, Kylie Weinhold, Sheyenne Wenner and Mikaila Whenry.

William Fithian, a senior at Garden Spot High School, wrote this letter.

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