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School board OKs measure allowing mask exemptions

On the same day a Warren County school announced it was closing to about half of its students for the rest of the week, the Warren County School District passed a measure easing mask restrictions.

On Monday afternoon, the Tidioute Community Charter School announced that all students in grades six through 12 would be sent home for remote learning for the rest of the week due to the number of positive COVID cases in the school. Students in grades pre-K through five remain in-person.

By Monday evening, the Warren County School Board approved a motion that means students may be exempted from having to wear face masks for medical, mental, or disability reasons without the requirement of a doctor’s excuse.

The face covering exemption form may be found on the district’s website – www.wcsdpa.org.

“At the current time the order does not state a requirement that the medical or mental condition must be substantiated by a medical professional,” according to the language in a letter indicating the board’s compliance with the order. “However, in the future, if the order is modified to require substantiation by a medical professional it will be necessary for you to provide that substantiation in order to continue the exception.”

Board member Joe Colosimo argued that the parent’s affirmation was all that should be required. “If I’m a parent, my kid comes home and says, ‘This is causing me an issue,’ then I would accept that as a Gospel that it’s causing them an issue,” he said. “Somebody else is not going to be able to say it is not causing them problems in their learning environment. Nobody on this board knows the student better than the parent does.”

Board member Arthur Stewart, who presented the motion, said, “The masks went away over the summer… the parents discovered, ‘My child’s headaches went away…'”

“Our children can go to Walmart… they can go to a Penn State game with 80,000 people, they can go anywhere, except school, without a mask on,” he said. “Other districts are following the same course of action that I have laid out. I believe… this motion complies with the exact letter of the law.”

Board member Mary Passinger argued against the motion, saying the district has been told that “any school entity permitting a parent sign-off… is not in compliance with the order.”

“We have a policy in place for anyone who wants an exemption,” she said.

Until Monday, that required a written excuse from a medical professional.

Board member Marcy Morgan agreed. “We have a policy in place for any parents who think their children are affected detrimentally,” she said. The motion “puts us in jeopardy. I think it’s wrong.”

“We’ve spoken with three solicitors,” Board President Donna Zariczny said. “Not one of our solicitors is recommending this direction. I think we should uphold the laws and the regulations that are put before us.”

The motion passed, but who voted for the motion and who voted against was not immediately available.

The motion passed, with Arthur Stewart, Colosimo, Kevin Lindvay, Paul Mangione, Elizabeth Huffman, and Jeff Labesky voting in favor and Passinger, Morgan, and Zariczny against.

COVID SITUATION

There are numerous positive cases of COVID in the district and close to 10 percent of the student population has been quarantined.

“We have 35 positives that have impacted his school district,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “They are spread out all over… 349 students have been denied entry because of … close contact.”

Stewart said there are no numerical guidelines in place this year that determine when the district must close buildings in response to cases of COVID-19.

She explained a few situations that could result in closure or other difficult situations.

Closure could result “if we can’t keep up with the contact tracing.”

She said she has added to the number of people involved in that process.

“Running out of big people,” she said. “If we quarantine a lot of our adults… we don’t have enough teachers, cafeteria workers, people cleaning… that is something we will have to consider.”

Getting students to school is another potential problem.

“We have seen some pressure on the bus companies as well,” Stewart said. “There are not a lot of drivers out there. If a contractor wouldn’t have enough drivers on a given day…”

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