Parents pressure West Shore, Eastern York school boards against mask mandates when no mandates are planned
Nine parents testified at the West Shore School District and Eastern York School District's board meetings Thursday night about concerns they had with each district's health and safety plan for the 2021-22 school year.
Both boards passed their plans with a unanimous vote, despite the parents' concerns. A larger group of parents, including several who testified on Thursday, also testified at the June 17 board meetings against a potential mask mandate, which is not included in either plan.
At least 43 people testified against mask mandates at six local school board meetings last month, including at West Shore, despite none of the districts proposing a mandate. School districts must submit their health and safety plans for the 2021-22 school year by July 30 to be eligible for COVID-19 relief funding, and many of the parents were concerned that the plans would include mask mandates.
At least eight local school districts, including West Shore and Eastern York, have approved their health and safety plans and have made them available on their websites,
Both West Shore and Eastern York's safety plans state the districts do not intend to require masks for students or staff, unless it is required by the state. Both districts also plan to keep schools open for in-person instruction five days a week, while encouraging physical distancing when "practicable."
West Shore parents called the plan "unacceptable," because it "leaves the door open" for future mandates. They asked the board to give parents the power to choose whether their students wear masks at school.
West Shore board president Frank Kambic said if the state or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made masking or other safety protocols a requirement, then West Shore would follow suit. If the agencies made only recommendations, district officials would decide what is best for students and staff at the time, he said.
The health and safety plan is not set in stone, and the board can revise the plan in the future if conditions change, Kambic said.
Eastern York's board echoed West Shore's position. Several board members said they intend to keep masks optional, but the district would be legally obligated to follow a direct order from the state, even if they didn't submit a health and safety plan.
One parent, Kristi Spangler, said she pulled her son out of a West Shore school due to her concerns with the district's COVID-19 policies. She said while masks aren't required now, she is certain the district will require them by the fall.
An Eastern York parent said she would prefer the district defy future state mandates, even at the risk of losing financial support. She said she doesn't care if her children get COVID-19, but she is concerned about keeping her students in school in person and not online.
Parents from each district also took issue with other parts of the safety plan, including both districts' compliance with contact tracing. West Shore parent Laura Basso described contact tracing as "illegal," "creepy" and "stalking" in her testimony. Another West Shore parent claimed the district's plan called for teachers to teach students about COVID-19 vaccines, which is not true.
West Shore's meeting also included support for mask mandates, which came from two individuals who submitted their comments to the board rather than testifying in person. Both commenters said they felt that keeping masks optional posed a risk to unvaccinated students.
West Shore board member Brian Guistwhite referenced these two comments when he explained why he supported the safety plan, talking over attempts from audience members to interrupt him. He said the difference in public opinion suggests the district should keep its options open.
"We can't write a plan that corners us into one thing or another," Guistwhite said.