Schools and students caught in middle of political fight over masks, superintendent tells Pa. Senate

Coronavirus in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The Tamaqua School District was ignoring the state’s mask mandate until a stern letter arrived and this week reversed course. It’s the latest skirmish in a bigger battle over masks that landed in the State Senate’s Education Committee on Thursday.

The State sent a letter to Tamaqua and others saying the mask order is not “optional.” Schools could be sued and administrators held personally responsible for not enforcing. It’s gotten ugly.

“This statewide maks mandate has shown distrust in our community that I fear, will have lasting impacts. Our parents are fighting for what they believe is best for their children and our teachers are forced to play mask police,” Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) said.

Superintendents say they’re caught between angry parents and a State Order. “In the span of one day, I was informed I could be arrested if I followed the order and if I didn’t follow the order,” Hempfield Superintendent, Michael Bromirski said.

Daycares say they’re also being told to make sure those two-year-olds are properly masked or else. “Honestly, this is no longer about masks, it’s about control, and who has it? Not the parents,” Director of the Lititz Christian Early Learning Center, Jessica Daugherty said.

The Department of Health would argue the virus is dictating policy. On June 27, there were just 82 cases in Pennsylvania. By Thursday, it was more than five thousand. Everyone hates face coverings, but they beat alternatives. “Masks certainly seem to be more preferable and far less harmful to learning than shutting down in person and going back to 100% remote,” Senator Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) said.

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Superintendents say the Department of Health is not answering specific questions about policy and enforcement, and many parents aren’t buying in. “People aren’t trusting the information today, so we need to start building that trust,” Bormirski said.

“Let’s be honest, our community was divided long before this masking order and it’s been really rough on everybody,” Senator Lindsay Williams (D) Chair of the Education Committee said. Instead of fighting about covering kids’ faces, it might be smarter to cover their eyes. “Instead of being supported, we are being blamed and threatened from all sides,” Bromirski said.

Citing the fact that they’re being sued by lawmakers over the mask mandate, the Department of Health and Department of Education chose not to participate in today’s hearing.

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