Hamburg Area School District may be joining Tamaqua Area in defying the indoor mask mandate announced by the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last week.
Superintendent Richard Mextorf says he’s called on the school board to host an emergency meeting on Tuesday night, Sept. 7, specifically to discuss whether the school should or shouldn’t implement the mandate.
In a YouTube video posted on Sept. 2, Mextorf says he’s between the proverbial rock and hard place on whether or not to uphold the mandate or what the school board originally voted for in its state-mandated Health and Safety Plan.
He says Hamburg will start the school day on Aug. 7 with masks optional. That could be a temporary situation, depending on what happens at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“We are going to maintain the status quo at Hamburg Area School District,” Mextorf says.
Hamburg Area School Board to Decide Tuesday on Mask Mandate
Hamburg’s school board, like 415 of Pennsylvania’s 474 school districts did, voted for making the wearing of masks inside school buildings optional in the 2021-22 term.
All that seemingly changed when, on Aug. 31, Wolf trotted out Acting Health Sect. Alison Beam to order that masks be worn in schools across Pennsylvania. But not starting until Sept. 7, this Tuesday and a full week after the order was announced, because science.
In announcing that order, the Wolf administration said, without evidence, that children were at risk of developing serious illness from COVID if they didn’t wear a mask. But they could wait a week to start. Again, science.
The Wolf administration believes it found a loophole in the Disease Control and Prevention Act that allows them to do this. There’s already a legal challenge – led by State Sen. Doug Mastriano – in the works against that belief.
Pennsylvania Schools React to Mask Mandate
Since that announcement, the anti-masks on children advocates have been vocal. However, most school districts have said that they intend to follow the order.
Tamaqua Area, of course, said it wasn’t going to follow the order. Last week, as we were the first to report, its school board members voted to keep masks optional despite the order from the Gover … er, Health Secretary.
No other school in Pennsylvania has voted to go that route, making Tamaqua the real trailblazer for the anti-masks on children movement.
Other schools have begrudgingly said they’ll adhere to the mandate but they’re not happy about it.
The board at Pennridge School District wrote in a statement, “Please know that, because the Board believes the Governor has exceeded the authority granted him by the laws on which he relies, the Board will be actively considering opportunities to participate in any litigation filed by school districts seeking to challenge the Governor’s unilateral imposition of these requirements without any regard for local control of schools.”
Red Lion School District officials say the order is “unenforceable” in a letter to Beam and Education Sect. Noe Ortega.
“We simply do not have the capability to impose disciplinary consequences for hundreds of students or more who choose to defy this Order. We believe that threats of discipline and criminal prosecution are counterproductive in these efforts and further the divide within our community on this sensitive topic. Nor is it a tenable solution to exclude or otherwise segregate such children because of their personal choices,” the letter reads.
Then you have districts like Williams Valley, which seem to celebrate the order. In this message that pops up on the school’s website, it reads: “Please know there is a benefit of wearing masks.”
Williams Valley is an example of a school district that didn’t consult with its elected board members. It just acted from within the school walls to say they’re implementing an order from a Governor (or Health Secretary). Some school boards have ceded control of pandemic restrictions to teachers and administrators on a “Pandemic Team” like at Pottsville Area and Schuylkill Haven Area.
Schuylkill Haven actually acted prior to the state mask mandate and made face coverings mandatory. North Schuylkill did the same.
Hamburg on the Fence
At Hamburg however, Mextorf seems to want to let the school board – the people who hired him – to decide and he’ll seemingly uphold their wishes. There is no hint at what Hamburg’s school board members are thinking prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
But without their call, Mextorf says he’ll defy the order at least for the day. In his YouTube video, he described himself as being stuck between that rock and hard place.
“This is my commission,” he says in the video while holding up a framed certificate, “Which, when you become a superintendent, you get sworn in by a judge to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth including the mandates. On the other hand, I work for a school board that has hired me to articulate their vision for the district. I don’t know what to do.”
Here’s the full video from Mextorf:
Notice in the video he says the school board meeting will feature no Public Comment period. That definitely appears to violate the Pennsylvania open meetings laws which requires that the public have a chance to participate – such as through comments – before an elected board takes any action.
Mextorf says the board is allowed to have a meeting with no public comment period so they can focus on the mask issue but he’s a school superintendent and not a lawyer.
Hamburg is holding a school board meeting tomorrow night specifically to decide on the mask mandate. (More soon on this) but the Superintendent says there will be "no public comment" period.#SunshineLaw is like … pic.twitter.com/7DeZ4wpU2Q
— Coal Region Canary 🦅 (@HardCoalCanary) September 6, 2021
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