Students, teachers, and staff in the Bensalem School District will still have the option to wear masks when they return to class next week.
The school board voted at Wednesday night’s meeting to uphold its previous decision. On a 5-4 vote, the board members rejected a new version of the Health & Safety Plan which included a mask mandate regardless of vaccination status.
Superintendent Dr. Samuel Lee presented the new plan before an hour of public comment. It was identical to the previous plan with the exception of the mask policy.
Some of the earlier speakers urged the board to mandate masks in the classroom. The first speaker told the board to listen to medical authorities including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bucks County Department of Health.
“I was relieved to read the proposed updates to the health and safety plan yesterday,” said Michelle Woodling. “No one expects you to have vast scientific and medical knowledge, but we expect you to listen to the numerous credible sources available to you.”
Another woman, Joanne Miller, argued for an optional mask policy.
“While I am not minimizing the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on our country as a whole – I am a health care worker – the numbers just aren’t there to justify changing the health and safety plan to mandate masking of all children in the school district.”
School Board President Kim Rivera explained she thought at length about her decision to vote against the mask mandate. Rivera said she tried putting herself in the shoes of a parent.
“It’s a parent’s choice to vaccinate their child, not to vaccinate their child, mask their child, not to mask their child,” said Rivera.
“I got to vote with my heart. And I believe that I don’t have the authority to tell parents what to do with their children.”
Meantime, board member Vanessa Woods voted for the mandate. She expressed her decision was based on recommendations from medical experts.
“We have to be able to trust some form of knowledge. None of us has gone in and done the research. Looking things up on Google is not doing research.”
It comes as other Bucks County schools are taking second looks at their mask policies.
The Neshaminy School District has voted to implement a mask mandate for the first month of school. Meantime, up in Doylestown, the Central Bucks School District also rejected a mask mandate on a narrow margin.
The Council Rock School District will be reviewing its mask policy at a meeting Thursday night. It is also expected to have heavy turnout.