Spring Grove school board member: COVID-19 pandemic 'a crock of sh--'

A vocal group of Spring Grove Area residents on Monday night emphatically opposed any school reopening plan that requires district students and staff to wear masks.

And at least two school board members backed their demands, with one calling the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to mitigate it "a crock of s—."

At a Monday board meeting, several residents argued that no one is afraid of the virus and cited a petition with 400 signatures in support of their plan for a regular reopening of the district's schools that doesn't follow state and federal health guidelines.

Health experts have said masks are a key component to stemming the spread of the coronavirus. But the issue has become increasingly political nationally. 

The petition's signers did not want students or faculty wearing masks when school resumed and did not want children to be forced into a “rushed” COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend.

“If you look at the statistics, there’s nothing concrete that exists.” said resident Debbie Harris, citing the discrepancies between deaths reported to the coroner and the state and the numbers changing week to week.

Spring Grove High School graduate Adelia Hilt wears a mask before entering individual drive-up stage walk ceremonies at the school's stadium Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Graduates, with up to seven members of their immediate family, had the opportunity to walk across the stage with their diplomas and pose for professional and family photographs. The school graduated 302 seniors.Bill Kalina photo

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The strong opposition to health experts and officials guiding decisions across the state has been a talking point among Republicans and fueled a lengthy battle between Gov Tom Wolf and GOP state lawmakers.

Residents at Spring Grove’s Monday meeting also brought up House Resolution 836, which would have voided the governor’s declaration in relation to the treatment of various businesses during the pandemic.

Repeatedly throughout Monday's school board meeting, the crowd ignored the rules of public comment and erupted in shouts, such as “It’s a public meeting, you work for us. Sorry.”

Harris said her son, who has Asperger's syndrome and ADHD, was thriving at the district before the shutdown, and she does not want him to fail because of political agendas and false narratives.

Some residents promoted no social distancing of any kind, demanding a business-as-usual approach to the new school year. They claimed seeing teachers wearing masks would instill fear in students.

They were also adamant on a completely in-person return, noting virtual learning adversely affected student and parent mental health.

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A couple of school board members echoed their rhetoric.

Board member David Trettel said that the science regarding the virus is constantly changing, noting that it does not spread as easily through surface contact as once claimed.  

“Let’s take a look at what the science actually says and not what was said three months ago,” he said, adding that he would rather seek forgiveness from the Pennsylvania Department of Education than ask permission in regard to health and safety decisions.

Board member Douglas White called the whole situation with the pandemic “a crock of s—.”

“Sometimes you have to go outside of the box," he said of reopening plans. "Sometimes you have to say to the government, 'F you.'"

Both members ran for reelection on cross-filed Democratic and Republican tickets in November.

Josh Newark, of Jackson Township, who will be starting his 19th year as a high school social studies teacher, urged the board to view the issue through the lens of health and not politics.

His wife has the autoimmune disease lupus, and he knows half a dozen staff members with compromised immune systems, he said.

Newark cited several health and research organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Mayo Clinic and the National Academy of Sciences — in addition to the state Department of Health's reopening guidance — all of which support the use of masks.

“This is not a political issue. It is a public health issue,” he said. “Wearing a mask does not make me weak. It does not infringe upon my freedoms.”

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The board approved an athletic and extracurricular health and safety plan Monday, with board members White, Trettel and Maurice Gaskins opposing it.

The district’s primary health and safety plan, which will determine the use of masks, social distancing and other safety measures, must be approved by the board before reopening.

It is tentatively scheduled for discussion July 6 with a vote July 13.