During an August 9th meeting that took nearly four hours, the Colonial School Board voted 8-1 to mandate the wearing of masks for all students and staff (regardless of vaccination status). The mandate goes into effect on August 10th (today) and has no expiration date (but can always be changed with another vote by the board). This mandate amends the health and safety plan approved in July that only recommended the use of masks.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Christian explained that the priority for the district is keeping students in school five days a week and that rising cases of COVID-19 in the community warrant this update in the health and safety plan. He also outlined changing guidance from the CDC and Montgomery County.
The mandate does have some exceptions. Masks are not required when students are outside for recess, outside athletic competitions, and outside physical education classes.
Board members Cathy Peduzzi, Beth Suchsland, and Chris Epstein expressed that the board should consider making masks optional for the high school as high school students are currently able to be vaccinated. Another concern for the three members was the mandate’s impact on indoor sports and activities such as band.
In regards to the high school, other members of the board, notably Eunice Franklin-Becker, stated that high schoolers may have younger unvaccinated siblings in other district schools so masking shouldn’t be optional for the high school.
Several members expressed the desire to have more data on the vaccination rate of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School staff and students. This could only be achieved through a voluntary survey (which staff was not instructed to implement).
Procedurally, there was a motion to approve the health and safety plan proposed by the district’s staff that would mandate masks for all students and staff in the district. Peduzzi made a motion to amend that motion to exclude the high school. Peduzzi’s motion was voted down by a vote of six against and three for (Peduzzi, Suchsland, and Epstein). The vote on the original motion was then adopted with a vote of eight in support and one against (Peduzzi).
During public comment, several members of the public expressed concerns about masking due to its impact on mental health, lack of science, legal grounds, and effectiveness. A big argument was that the decision should be left to the parents. Several other members expressed support for the mandate citing the effectiveness of masks (and science on the matter).
Something That Did Not Go Unnoticed
In the above slide, which Dr. Christian used to highlight changing guidance, it is outlined that the county (as of July 29) and the CDC (as of August 5) recommend indoor masking regardless of vaccination status.
During the meeting, the superintendent was unmasked and sat between two unmasked people. The three school board members who attended the meeting in person did not wear masks. Based on the members of the public who spoke (and appeared on camera), most of the public attending were not masked.
So in a room with a number of unmasked people, with unknown vaccination status, the superintendent advocating for masking chose to not follow the county and CDC recommendation for masking, along with three members of the school board who voted to mandate masks.
Please do not take this as an argument for or against masks, it is just pointing out when the adults making the decision had a choice, they chose to not be masked against the guidance they were using to justify their decision and mere hours before their mandate would go into effect.
Images of Slides: Screengrabs from Colonial School District’s video