York Suburban schools reinstate mask mandate amid COVID-19 surge

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch

York Suburban School District now requires universal masking in all of its buildings, becoming the second district in the county to mandate masks after a statewide order for schools was struck down in December. 

The board approved the policy in a 5-3 vote Monday night, despite multiple protests from parents. Superintendent Timothy Williams recommended reinstating the mandate in response to the recent surge of COVID-19 cases observed across York County and in York Suburban schools. 

"I'm not comfortable with where the numbers are now," Williams said. 

COVID-19 has been surging across local schools since mid-December, at increasing rates every day. On Tuesday alone, York County schools logged 423 new cases, more than double the previous record for daily cases. 

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So far this school year, York Suburban schools have recorded 312 cases. Of those cases, 81 were reported since students returned from winter break Jan. 3.

According to board president John Posenau, the district's case levels are nearly at the point where they would need to switch to remote learning, which most officials want to avoid. The mask requirement would attempt to limit further infections and prevent closures. 

"Everybody at this table wants to keep school in session," Posenau said at the meeting. 

The reinstated mask policy took effect immediately Tuesday and will remain in place until York County's seven-day average for new cases falls below 400 per 100,000 people. 

York Suburban is just the second district in the county to implement a universal mask policy for all buildings. The first was the York City School District, which has kept a mask requirement in place all school year. 

One other district, West Shore, temporarily requires masking for individual schools if enough new cases are reported within 14 days. Currently, every school in the district requires masks until at least Jan. 13. 

York Suburban's school board faced strong opposition to the policy Monday night, with 13 people commenting against the mask requirement. Seven people commented in support of the decision, but most of those comments were written instead of spoken. 

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Among the people who spoke, the common arguments were that regular masks are not effective at holding off the omicron variant and that mask mandates were detrimental to children's mental health. 

"You guys don't love our kids more than we love our kids," one parent said. "It is disgusting."

Board member James Sanders, who voted against the mandate, repeatedly called the policy arbitrary and also argued that normal masks don't work against the omicron variant. He said parents should maintain control over whether their children wear masks, arguing that they know what is best for their children. 

Posenau responded by arguing that all masks are effective to an extent and that the district is responsible for maintaining the safety of all students. 

"Yes, parents know what is best for their kids," Posenau said. "What parents don't always know what's best for are the hundreds of kids surrounding that individual."

— Reach Erin Bamer at ebamer@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter @ErinBamer.