Nazareth Area School District Superintendent Dr. Dennis Riker presented two COVID mitigation options to the NASD School Board for consideration. Both options present a tiered approach that would keep schools open for in-person instruction five-days a week. Neither option would require masks unless a certain threshold of positive cases are confirmed. NASD, said Riker, has to be based on NASD data and not on county data.
“There has been some criticism of me on social media,” he said. “But I believe we need to look at what’s happening here in the Nazareth School District and be responsible in that perspective.”
The first option would present three tiers based on school size and the case size in each building. Elementary schools would remain open, full-time, with masks recommended (not required) when cases are four or less over a 10-day rolling period. Masks will still be required on the bus and in the nurse’s office. When there are five or more cases, Tier 2 would require masks for five days. When there are eight or more cases, Tier 3 will require masks for 10 days.
In the intermediate school and middle school, Tier 1 will be in effect when there are fewer than five cases. Tier 2 will go into effect when there are six or more cases. Tier 3 will go into effect when there are more than 10 cases (NAIS) or 12 (NAMS).
NAHS, as a larger school, has different requirements. Tier 1 is fewer than 10 cases, Tier 2 goes into effect when there are 11 or more cases, and Tier 3 goes into effect with 20 or more cases.
The second option uses slightly different calculations that would require more COVID cases over a 10-day period, but all restrictions would remain unchanged from the first option.
There will be exemptions for masks based on a medical condition, disability, and religious objection. All exemptions need to be communicated with the principal in writing.
“I’m getting ready to start an amazing school year for our boys and girls,” said Dr. Riker. “The best medication for me…is seeing our teacher’s in action and our boys and girls laughing.”
During public comment, parents from both sides of the mask argument made their voices heard.
“We have to keep our kids safe and masking them is not safe when not done correctly,” said mother Lisa Lyon. She wanted required mask breaks for students.
Bess Collins Van Asselt, mother of an incoming kindergartner and Moravian University professor said, “Put a mask on…then let us look at the data…you are playing a game…and it is not appropriate. Not with our kids.”
She added that NASD would burden healthcare workers who must care for children ill with COVID if masks were not required. Many healthcare workers were present at the meeting and advocated strongly for masks.
“Some of the things I’ve heard tonight are a little disturbing,” said resident Chuck Caghill, a registered nurse. He said doctors and physicians have been wearing masks for hundreds of years without issue. COVID, he said, is the real danger.
“It is not a pretty way to die…you die alone.”
Meanwhile, some who spoke questioned case data the CDC is making public. One resident, Ross Ellis, said it would require “magical thinking” to determine that masks help stop the spread. Another parent, Debbie Biro, said parents who want a mask requirement should just keep their children home.
“If you are not happy and you want your children to wear a mask, you can always keep them home and do home schooling,” she said.
But what many parents don’t realize, said others, is that the decision not to wear a mask impacts the entire community beyond Nazareth.
“We cannot pretend that Nazareth is a microcosm unto itself and not part of a larger community,” said one mother.
Jeff Boehner, a Nazareth father, agreed. “Everyone that wears a mask stops the spread to other people…Your choice is not being affected by my children wearing a mask, but your children not wearing a mask is affecting all of mine. That’s the difference.”
Dr. Riker admitted that St. Luke’s has provided recommendations that NASD, and all schools, require masks, which is contrary to the school’s tiered approach.
Michael Psathas, counsel for Air Products and father of an incoming kindergartner was angered by this.
“I cannot in good conscience send my daughter to kindergarten if you’re not listening to health experts that you rely upon…We’re playing politics with our kids.”
The board voted 9-0 to implement Option 2 into their health and safety plan. However, some board members admitted they were not happy with the plan’s “mask optional” language, but knew it was the “best they have.”
Board member Dr. Adam McGlynn said, “My biggest priority in all of this is what keeps the schools open. I wish we were doing more…this is what I think can get done right now, thus I will be voting for it.”
Board members Kenneth Butz and Joseph Vask also said the plan was not strict enough, but necessary to keep children in school.
However, other board members said that parents know their children best.
Board Member Kathryn Roberts said there is science to support both sides of the argument and the board must do its best to support the anecdotal data and the scientific data presented by parents and experts.
“My gut and my heart are saying, give parents a choice,” added Dr. Linda G. Stubits, school board president. “My head is saying, yeah we need to have a plan in place…my gut, my heart is saying I really don’t want to mask these kids.”
With the option the board passed, however, she said NASD is at least being “proactive.”