After input from five dozen parents and students, the Council Rock School District will remain mask optional for the upcoming school year.
The CRSD Board listened to hours of public comment at Thursday night’s meeting. Most speakers supported an optional mask policy, though others voiced support for a mandate.
While 61 people spoke, more than two hundred came out to watch the meeting. Dozens more waited in the overflow crowd outside the Chancellor Center hoping for a chance to speak.
Three officers from the Newtown Township Police Department were on scene to keep the peace. One told WBCB some parents arrived as early as 4:30 p.m. to camp out for the 7 p.m. meeting.
In the line snaking through the parking lot, residents had many different views.
“This is not right for our kids,” said Walt Thomas, of Holland. “My kids came home from school everyday with anxiety, headaches, major issues. We want them to have the option. If you want to mask up all the time, you want to go through life in bubble wrap then have at it. But the rest of us don’t want that.”
But another parent disagreed.
“I have a son who is elementary age which means he can’t be vaccinated and none of the people he goes to school with can be vaccinated,” said mother Jamie Hutchison. “So literally the only tool we have in our toolbox to protect our kids is to have masking, to have social distancing.”
Newtown Borough Council President Tara Grunde-McLaughlin was among those in the overflow crowd. She a preference to base masking decisions on the current situation.
“Aside from a mandate, I’d really like to follow the CDC recommendation. So if Bucks County is at a high or substantial level of the virus spread, particularly considering the Delta variant, then I think we should wear masks when we’re indoors in group settings. And if we’re at a moderate or low level, then I think it’s up to the individual person.”
Kristen, a vaccinated mother from Churchville, arrived to the meeting with her teenage daughter. She argued people should have the choice to get the COVID-19 vaccine and wear masks.
“And if you don’t want to get vaccinated that’s your choice, but don’t expect the rest of us to wear masks forever,” said Kristen.
Her daughter, who is also vaccinated, called the experience of wearing masks in the classroom last spring “awful.” She added she got the vaccine to avoid wearing masks at all.
“We had to wear them all day. Teachers would tell you to pull them up, I’d wear it below my nose because I think it’s ridiculous. If I were to get COVID, I think I’d be fine. I think most of the kids in school would be fine.”
Ultimately, the decision on whether to adopt a mask mandate never came to a vote. After five hours, the board simply ended the meeting, leaving the optional policy in place.
More than one board member offered skepticism to new guidance from the Bucks County Department of Health. While Health Director Dr. David Damsker had previously endorsed optional mask policies, the recommendation suddenly changed two weeks ago.
Then the local Department of Health issued more updated guidelines this Tuesday. While it had his name at the top, the memo unusually did not include any word from Damsker.
Board member Joseph Hidalgo questioned the timing of the new guidance, which essentially defaulted to the CDC.
“And then all of a sudden six area hospitals get together on the calls, then we’re getting the Department of Health at the state level coming down, and basically writing articles and demoralizing this guy. He’s being personally attacked, his wife’s being attacked,” said Hidalgo. “I don’t think this was written by Dr. Damsker.”