Voices behind the mask: Reactions to an updated proposal

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By Shreya Vaidhyanathan, Co-Webmaster On Jan. 24 the T/E school board voted 9-0, unanimously in favor of an updated Health and Safety plan proposal. Although there is currently no universal mask mandate in Pennsylvania, TESD continues to follow the guidance of various national health officials and local departments such as the Chester County Health Department...

By Shreya Vaidhyanathan, Co-Webmaster

On Jan. 24 the T/E school board voted 9-0, unanimously in favor of an updated Health and Safety plan proposal. Although there is currently no universal mask mandate in Pennsylvania, TESD continues to follow the guidance of various national health officials and local departments such as the Chester County Health Department (CCHD) in keeping universal masking in our district, to the dismay of some community members.

Slightly altered since its first appearance in Aug. 2021, the Health and Safety plan now maintains in-person instruction as a top priority. Because of the CCHD’s statement that “universal contact tracing is an increasingly less effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within Chester County,” superintendent Richard Gusick announced in an email that “TESD staff will no longer be contacting staff members who are considered close contacts” to positive COVID-19 cases. Staff are to continue monitoring their symptoms and, if symptomatic, get tested. The district is no longer authorized by the CCHD to conduct contact tracing and issue quarantine letters on the county’s behalf which the plan amends accordingly. Contrastingly, the district is upholding the mask mandate which, while not required by the CCHD, is still recommended. Although public comment was minimal on Jan. 24, some expressed disapproval towards the district and universal masking at the more popular Jan. 3 meeting.

“Since the beginning of the school year — and I think many students would agree with me — (the school board has) made these decisions that make us feel like prisoners,” said junior Hayden McLellan, comparing the district’s masking guidelines to those of a jail.

The lack of choice alarms parent Vanessa Monahan, who expected more freedom after society crossed “hurdles” like vaccine distribution. In light of the district’s redefinition of vaccination status to include the booster, Monahan was disappointed by the unwavering mask mandate.

“I trust my kid with (the school) every single day, and I’m saddened that you’re not giving them a choice,” Monahan said. “It actually breaks my heart.”

While the CDC, PA DOH and Chester County Health Department (CCHD) all recommend universal masking in schools, McLellan argued that retaining personal freedoms are vital. He urged the school board to amend the Health and Safety Plan, citing the rise of cases as evidence for the plan’s ineffectiveness.

“You guys say that students are having trouble acclimating back to the in school setting,” McLellan said. “Maybe, if you gave people their freedoms, they would get acclimated better and faster.”

Conestoga’s mask mandate reflects the guidance of both the CDC and CCHD, who recommend masking while indoors for schools. Freshman Declan Redmond spoke in support of the mandate, naming misinterpretations of “what is going on in the classroom” as a reason he shared his own experience.

“I think that everyone and anyone that can, should continue to (wear) a mask to protect ourselves, our friends, our grandparents, everyone in our community.” Redmond said. “Everyone is entitled to a certain level of freedom, but your rights stop where mine begin.” 

Parent Matt McKenzie voiced concerns about the mental health of students, and how he believes that wearing a mask takes away from their educational experience. Claiming that masks are ineffective and simply keep up “the appearance of safety,” McKenzie was dismayed at the cancellation of certain activities because of the pandemic.

“The unintended consequence of you being overly cautious about this virus around our children is that their mental health has deteriorated to a point that is inexcusable,” McKenzie said. “It’s time to get over it.”

School board president Roberta Hotinski recessed the meeting three times due to safety concerns, resulting in the closing of public comment on the Health and Safety plan and the premature adjournment of the meeting. As of the meeting on Jan. 24, TESD schools follow the guidelines put forth in the updated Health and Safety plan. 


Shreya Vaidhyanathan can be reached at [email protected]

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