Midstate parents push back against mask mandate with exemption request

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pushback against the statewide school mask mandate is intensifying.

Wednesday, abc27 News learned of another lawsuit aimed at the mandate. There are six parents involved as plaintiffs, including a Mechanicsburg mom.

The lawsuit is directed at Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam alleging that she does not have the authority to mandate masks at schools and that her order violates the state constitution. Meanwhile, many parents in Mechanicsburg are submitting medical exemption requests for their students.

The mandate specifically outlines exemptions, saying an exception can be made, “If wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.”

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Ketzy Trevizo is one of the parents who submitted a request, for all three of her kids in the Mechanicsburg Area School District. However, she got a response from the district that her request was denied.

“Anywhere from 30 to 40 people who submitted exemptions all got the same email verbatim. It was not tailored to specific families. And that let me know that the school district was not taking it seriously and they simply were denying everyone,” Trevizo said.

Dr. John Goldman, an infectious disease physician at UPMC, says valid exemptions for masking are rare.

“There aren’t a lot of medical reasons that you can’t wear a mask,” Goldman said. One of the reasons he pointed to as valid was if masking triggers anxiety attacks.

However, he argued for almost all children masking is safe and effective. “Masks can make it less comfortable to breathe, but they don’t really interfere with your breathing,” Goldman said.

The Trevizo kids do have respiratory conditions, so their mom pushed back against the rejection.

“So they came back and my children are actually temporarily under a provision not to wear masks,” Trevizo said.

Superintendent Dr. Leidy says some parents did have their requests denied.

We continue to work with families on exceptions allowable under the mask order,” Leidy said. “Over the last several days, numerous school districts in the area including MASD received a downloadable internet form to serve as a medical exception for students to wear masks. This pre-signed generalized form did not document a specific medical or mental health condition or disability. “

However, he says there are others in the district who were granted exemptions.

“Several individuals did reach out to building principals to share more specific medical concerns and those individuals were provided with a grace period to work through the medical exemption process. We have approximately 20 children who have qualified for exceptions in the last week. This does not include all of the children who already qualified last year.” Leidy said.

“I understand that school districts are very overwhelmed, but that shouldn’t minimize or diminish the amount of time and effort that they put to ensure that those with valid exceptions are granted those exceptions,” Trevizo said.

Dr. Goldman pointed out that kids with respiratory conditions or other medical issues may have more reason to mask up.

“People with lung problems and kids with severe asthma also get more sick if they get COVID,” Goldman said.

Trevizo says she feels her kids are safe, even maskless.

“My opinion is based on my children and that’s my biggest thing is all of us parents want to do what’s right based on our children,” Trevizo said.

Dr. Goldman says his biggest concern about maskless kids isn’t about their COVID risks, but instead that they could pass the virus onto adults who are more at risk of getting really sick and possibly dying.

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