There was a large public turnout both online and in person at the July 27 meeting of the Nazareth Area Board of School Directors. The board was set to vote on a health and safety plan for the upcoming school year and parents turned out to let their opinions about masks and vaccinations be known. The health and safety plan states:
- Masks will be required on buses, regardless of vaccination status, per CDC requirements for public transportation.
- A physical distance of 3 feet should be maintained when practical to do so.
- Frequent hand washing, cleaning and sanitizing will take place in all schools.
- All rooms will have six to seven air changes per hour.
- Vaccinations and proof of vaccinations will not be required from students or staff.
- Volunteers and visitors will be required to wear masks during the instructional day and provide proof of vaccination.
- Masks will be optional in all other instances.
The first speaker, a resident of Lower Nazareth with two kids in the district, said that he felt the health and safety plan was poorly developed and didn’t do enough to keep children safe. He said the development of the plan was not transparent and of the 39 review team members, only eight are classroom teachers.
“The safest part of the kids’ school day will be on the bus, where masks are mandatory,” he said.
After his pro-mask comments, the speaker was met with laughter from the public in attendance. Some of the points made from this contingent touched on questions of effectiveness and whether masks potentially transmit dangerous bacteria. A parent noted that children who were abused could potentially experience post-traumatic stress symptoms because of something placed over the nose and mouth.
One of the mask-optional speakers discussed mental health problems that masking kids could cause, in his opinion. He presented anecdotal evidence about a local rise in teen suicides since the beginning of the pandemic that he gathered by visiting local medical facilities.
“If I was so afraid of my kids getting sick, I wouldn’t send them to school at all,” a parent said in response to pro-masking comments.
After a parent noted that she does not support advertising or promoting vaccination in any way in the schools, saying that “minors should discuss medical decisions with parents,” School Board Treasurer Kenneth Butz asked how many of these comments relate to agenda items.
One of the more contentious issues was if Board Member Gregory Leh should recuse himself from the health and safety plan vote. Some of the attendees said that his affiliation with St. Luke’s hospital could potentially be a conflict of interest. Leh defended himself, addressing the crowd directly about the dangers of Covid-19, the effectiveness of masks and the Center for Disease Control recommendations that were released the day of the meeting that encouraged indoor masking for staff, students and visitors to schools regardless of vaccination status. He said that he had no financial interest in the vote and would not recuse himself.
“Shame on you,” Leh said to people who tried to intimidate him via email, phone calls and text messages.
Leh continued, saying that he is aware of the stress this pandemic brings to children. While he believes the current plan is a good one, he doesn’t believe that it goes far enough. Face coverings, social distancing and other mitigation measures like school closings need to be addressed in the plan, he said.
Board Member Denise Glaros said that she will be voting yes for the mask optional health and safety plan because she believes that “masks worn by healthy individuals cause more harm than good.”
Board Member Adam McGlynn noted that masking has caused “a lot of division” in the community and said he believes that students should be in school. However, he doesn’t believe the current plan represents the most people possible. He will be voting no.
Board President Linda Stubits discussed her son, who is very compromised because of medical conditions, and whom they have had to protect themselves for 27 years from potentially very harmful respiratory illnesses. She said he isn’t afraid to go outside right now and that she thinks we can protect ourselves and that we can do this safely. Stubits said that she personally opposes government mandates and would be a hypocrite to impose mandates on others.
Board Member Kathryn Roberts said she is going to vote to approve the plan.
“We need to offer a choice,” she said.
Board Vice President Joseph Vasko said that this is one of the most difficult votes he will have to make in all of his years on the board.
Ultimately, the health and safety plan passed. In closing comments some members of the community spoke again during public comment against mandatory masking and thanked the board.
The Nazareth Area School District Board of Directors meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.