Disgruntled parents and members of the community flocked to the Tyrone Area School Board Meeting on Tuesday, September 7th, eager to make their opinions heard on the recently approved state mask mandate for schools.
The onslaught of public opinion led the board to draft a medical exemption form to allow students to opt out of the mask mandate without a doctor’s excuse.
The majority of community members who attended the meeting were against the mask mandate and asked the school board to oppose it. A lot of the anger and frustration was aimed at Superintendent Leslie Estep.
“I’m saying Leslie told you how to vote, you know how to vote,” said parent Russ Walk.
Since the board meeting on September 7th, Blair County has experienced a spike in COVID cases. On average there were 45 new cases per day.
Since August 25th, 2020, Tyrone School District has had 110 student cases and 162 total cases. Of those 110 student cases, 20 have been in the last week since the board meeting on September 7th.
A similar pattern was seen on a national scale when mask mandates were lifted on June 28th and a surge in COVID-19 cases occurred.
Questions of how many COVID cases it would take to close down the school have run rampant.
“I am hopeful that cases level out and we do not have to consider that possibility. Unfortunately, we know that we have to remain prepared to alter our instructional model temporarily if conditions warrant that change,” says superintendent Leslie Estep.
However, there are many variables that play a role in closing the school.
“Many factors play into this scenario, such as the number of cases, the number of quarantines, et cetra. It is difficult to say specifically what those conditions will be, as those can vary among each building, and even grade level. We will continue to monitor our situation and our discussions with the Department of Health. Our goal is to keep the full-time, in-person instructional model for as long as possible,” said Estep.
There is a lot of controversy around mask-wearing for a variety of reasons. This was the reason that the Tyrone School Board cited for approving the emergency mask exemption.
“While I can appreciate people’s passion and indications of confusing or contradictory rules from state agencies that we have been asked to follow, we are required to follow the mask order at this time. We acknowledge that there are students who have difficulty wearing masks and we are willing to work with families toward feasible solutions for this,” said Estep.
While mask mandates remain a political issue there are those who believe it is more of a scientific issue.
“The best protection everybody has masks,” said Kimberly Prather, a professor at the University of California.
As cases rise in the district, the administration voiced their concerns about the political effects of mask-wearing on the spread of the virus.
“With the number of cases that our district has experienced over the last couple of weeks, I believe that the mask mandate would at least help us curb the number of quarantines that we have experienced,” said Estep.
Another reason to wear masks are differences in consideration for close contact.
“We are able to reduce the distance used to define a close contact for students if they are wearing masks,” said Estep.
While the effects of COVID-19 continue to have a profound effect on the community, the effect on schools has yet to unfold.