Masking questioned by MASD parents

The Montrose Area School Board adopted its final 2021-22 expense budget of nearly $23.4 million with no tax increase at Monday night’s meeting – the first in-person public board meeting in about 15 months.

It wasn’t the school budget that brought people to the meeting held in the high school auditorium. The planned summer programs in the district – including the new Summer Academy for select grades 6-8 students, which will focus on reinforcing reading and math skills and work to connect them to the school community.

District parents had questions about what COVID-19 related health and safety guidelines protocols would be carried into the coming school year – specifically questions about masking.

Ed Herd, of Montrose, asked, “What guidelines will be carried into next year?” and said that, “A lot of people are concerned about this.”

Superintendent Chris McComb said, “I get that people want to have answers – so do we.” He told parents at the meeting that the only information the district currently has from the Department of Education is posted on the landing page of the district website.

In a “Message from the Superintendent” posted on the website on June 3, McComb wrote: “For the past several weeks, the discussion about what next year will look like has become the topic of much discussion. All around us we see things finally starting to return to some sense of normalcy. Given the trajectory of these changes, we are hopeful that a return to school for the 2021-2022 school year will be as close to normal as possible. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is currently working on releasing guidance for schools as they begin developing their reopening plans for the fall. Additionally, the mask order is set to expire in Pennsylvania on June 28, 2021. Given this information, it is our intention to return to school this August in person for all students five days a week without masks.”

Business manager Michelle Lusk clarified that an agenda item approving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Grant Program agreement was to submit for expenses incurred by the district since March of this year – such as custodial department overtime and PPE –  that were not covered by other COVID-related funding sources.

One parent told the board that, “Everyone is very concerned about next year,” and accused the board and district of making decisions while keeping parents “in the dark.”

McComb said that the ESSR funding questioned by some parents note that districts can tailor health and safety plans to their own “unique needs.”

Despite reassurances of the district’s intention to not require face masks in the coming year, several impassioned parents pleaded with the board against masking requirements.

Another parent also questioned if the district would vaccinate children against the wishes of the parents.

McComb said the district would never vaccinate a child without parental permission.

Board member John Wood said, “It is our full intention to come back without masks” with board member Gloria Smith adding that, “We’ve never made a decision for money,” answering the allegations the district would require children to mask in order to receive special funding.

One parent told the board, “It’s not your job to protect the health of children. It’s my job and my job alone.”

One speaker requested that if the mask mandate continued in the school next year that the district continue offering the remote learning option as well as Wednesdays “off.”

The district expects to receive more information about the coming year from the Department of Education and the board is expected to discuss plans for next year at the July 19 meeting.


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