School Board Meeting Unmasks a Divided Community Over The Governor’s Face-Covering Mandate

By Shana Carey

Co Editor-in-Chief, Marketing and Opinions Editor

The new mask mandate sparked a heated Red Lion School Board meeting on Thursday night. An order from the Department of Health released Tuesday requires face covering for all students, teachers, staff and visitors in school buildings.

Hundreds of residents attended the meeting in the high school auditorium or viewed the meeting over a video call.  Police officers were present to help maintain order. 

In a prepared statement, legal counsel for the district Margaret Driscol said that the district will comply with the order, and that following the law is not something that district officials can pick and choose, according to preference. 

“The board and the superintendent are required to uphold and defend the laws…whether or not they agree with any particular order or regulation,” Driscol said.

“The district intends to comply and enforce the order,” Driscol said,  “Unless and until a court of law determines the order is not valid or the legislature passes legislation that negates the order.”

The order comes less than a month after Governor Wolf placed the decision for mask wearing in the hands of local officials.

The school board heard from around fifty residents last night on both sides of the masking issue.

High school junior Sophie Beard, joining the meeting by video from her residence via Zoom, said she was glad that the district was implementing it. A student athlete, Beard said some of her teammates are already missing games due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

“I don’t feel we should have  to wait until we have students who are getting sick and are being removed from school until we decide to make that decision to have everyone wear masks,” Beard said. “Now that this mandate is up, I will wear a mask because I feel that is what is best for me, my family and my peers.”

Felton resident Jess Waltersdorff joined the meeting from Zoom and identified herself as a healthcare worker.  She supports the mask mandate, saying she has held iPads for patients while family members watch them take their final breaths.  

“I have seen first hand what  COVID-19 can do to families,” Waltersdorff said.

The Red Lion school board and filled audience listen to eighth grade Emily Heiland speak about how she will not wear a mask regardless of the board’s decision.

While some spoke out supporting the board, the auditorium erupted with outbursts and many citizens disgruntled with the mask wearing mandate spoke to the board in person. 

“I will go to school every day without a mask on,” eighth grader Emily Heiland said, “I will accept the mask you put in my hands, but I will not wear it.” 

Heiland, a member of the Junior High Volleyball Team, said that she felt discriminated against by her classmates last year for not wearing a mask at all times. 

She was initially excited to hear that Red Lion was not requiring masks for the 2021-2022 school year, but the mask mandate will take effect Tuesday, Sept. 7.

 “I will not comply,” Heiland said, to an uproar of applause. 

Heiland said that the board will not see her walking around school with a mask on because her education is important, and she does not support virtual learning. Heiland also said that it should be her choice to wear the mask because the school board has no right to her body. 

After the initial public comments, School Resource Officer and school board member Marc Greenly left his chair at the board table.

 “We can do something,” Greenly said. “Many things were laws in the past that weren’t just at the time, and it took one person, one board, to stand up to. Why can’t that be us?”

Zoom call attendees could not hear Officer Greenly’s statement or the applause following it, nor see the standing ovation in the crowded auditorium. 

The in-person school board meeting attendees give Officer Greenly a standing ovation after he encouraged the board to go against Governor Wolf’s order.

Several parents asked what the consequences would be for students not wearing a mask. School Board President Mrs. Crone said that disciplinary actions are up to the principal of each building. 

 “We cannot do anything by force, but there will be disciplinary action,” Crone said.

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