At board meetings around York County, parents railed against mask, vaccine mandates for next school year. No district was proposing any

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
The West Shore School District Board Meeting at the West Shore School District Administration Center in Fairview Township, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Parents packed school board meetings around York County last week to argue against making masks or COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for students next school year — despite the fact no local district has made such proposals. 

At least 43 people, mostly parents, testified at six school board meetings last week advocating to keep masks and COVID-19 vaccines optional. None of the districts in question are currently considering making either masks or vaccinations a requirement. 

"It kind of caught me off guard," said Eastern York Board President Jason Malone. 

The testimony was largely united by the belief that COVID-19 vaccines were untrustworthy and masks posed a bigger threat to children than COVID-19, with several parents describing masks as "child abuse."

Several parents' comments were heated, and they ended up yelling at board members in the West Shore School District and Southern York County School District. 

The spread of COVID-19 has steadily declined nationwide over the past two months, largely due to the distribution of vaccines. York County's case rate is the lowest it's been in a year, and its rate of positive COVID-19 tests has also dropped. 

More:York County's COVID-19 case rate lowest since June 2020

More:COVID-19 cases slow to a crawl in York County schools

Pennsylvania's mask order is set to be lifted on Monday, but several local school districts already have relaxed their mask mandates. One of these districts was Central York, which still had five people testify against mask mandates at the board's June 14 meeting. The same night, the board approved a plan to make masks and COVID-19 vaccinations optional for all students and staff, effective that night. 

Most parents appeared less concerned about what their district's mask and vaccine policies were over this summer, and were more concerned that their school board would make masks or vaccines mandatory for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

School boards are currently drafting their health and safety plans for the 2021-22 school year, which must be submitted by July 30 to be eligible for COVID-19 relief funding. Malone said the plans must include what the district's approach to masks and vaccines will be, which he believes scared some parents. 

However, districts are not obligated to make either masks or vaccines mandatory in their plans. Malone said Eastern York plans to make masks optional, and officials have never even considered making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory. 

"I fully expect the fall to be completely back to normal," he said. 

A few parents encouraged board members to turn down funding from state departments, or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, if it would require them to make masks or vaccines mandatory. 

Kendall Alexander, spokesperson for the state Department of Education, confirmed that neither masking nor vaccinations are a requirement for school districts to receive ESSR funding. 

Malone said Eastern York's school board would likely not follow any state recommendations for mandatory masking or vaccines, even if they were tied to additional funding. However, he said he doesn't know that the board would have the authority to go against a state mandate. 

While the vast majority of last week's testimony was focused against mask mandates, at least four parents testified in support of masks.

Dallastown parent Traci Rodkey called out other parents in her testimony for "bullying" board members by threatening to pull their students out of the district if officials don't comply with their wishes. She said several doctors have assured her that they expect the upcoming school year to look like normal. 

"All of this is just a waste of the board's time," Rodkey said.