Masks will be mandatory at Hamburg Area schools starting Wednesday … WINK 😉.
School board members there voted Tuesday night, 5-3, to approve a motion that says the school will abide by the mask mandate handed down by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (through his Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam) back on Aug. 31.
But there are a few caveats to that adherence to the order.
For starters, in the motion passed by board members Tuesday, they’re officially not happy with the order. That likely won’t matter to the Governor and Acting Health Secretary.
Secondly, the district is making it really easy to get an exemption from it. Easy as in, if a parent signs a note that says their child is exempt from the mask mandate for any of the reasons allowed in the state’s order, the school is going to OK it. That’s what the board voted for and that’s what the school is going to do, according to its Superintendent.
This is an exemption note that school board member Andrew Raugh wrote himself that he told us would be acceptable. Raugh is the one who crafted the single motion that got voted on by board members Tuesday:
Hamburg will follow this order in this way until Oct. 11, the next regularly scheduled board meeting, when the topic will be revisited. By that time, they’re hoping that either the mask mandate is terminated or its found to be illegal. You can probably bank on neither of them happening in a little over a month.
Hamburg Votes to Make Masks Mandatory in Schools
To the best of our knowledge, Hamburg joined Tamaqua Area schools as the only ones who started the school day on Tuesday with masks still optional for students, teachers, staff, and visitors. Tamaqua voted last week to defy the mask mandate.
Last week, Hamburg Superintendent Richard Mextorf posted a video on YouTube explaining that he didn’t know what to do in regard to the mask mandate: should he go on his own and implement it per the order or abide by the wishes of the school board, which passed a Health and Safety Plan prior to the order which made masks mandatory. Until he heard otherwise, he would keep masks optional.
So, he called upon the school board to meet Tuesday night to give him direction. Mextorf reiterated that by telling them directly, “You’re my board. I stand with this board.”
Mextorf said he didn’t want the board to pass a motion Tuesday that would say the school is going to follow the mandate but with a “wink wink” attached to it. In reality, that’s what they did pass.
The board did come together Tuesday night for a debate on this singular topic. The meeting didn’t formally have a Public Comment period, per Pennsylvania open meetings laws but there was frequent discussion between the board and the public throughout the one hour discussion.
One person among the 80 or so people who attended Tuesday night’s meeting suggested Hamburg follow the lead of Tamaqua in defying the mask mandate.
“We are not Tamaqua,” Board President Brian Specht replied.
*** ASIDE ***
No, Hamburg isn’t Tamaqua but look who we spotted in among the crowd at Tuesday’s Hamburg school board meeting …
… Tamaqua school board President Larry Wittig.
Specht said Hamburg had a legal and moral obligation to “follow the law” which prompted some immediate replies from the crowd noting that the mask mandate wasn’t actually a law.
Board member Todd Hummel, who was most vocal against the mask mandate and voted No to the motion that passed Tuesday, said “I don’t believe this ‘mandate’ is the law. I believe the Governor and the Acting Sect. of Health are acting above the law.”
The discussion at Hamburg’s meeting was different from Tamaqua’s too.
While folks in Tamaqua mostly discussed the potential health issues presented by masks on children, in Hamburg the talk was mostly focused on overreach by the state government. Board members who seemed to be opposed the mandate worried about their personal risk if they took a stand.
They worried about losing immunity from lawsuits or potentially getting someone decertified or the school missing out on funding if it didn’t follow along.
Specht said at one point that it “feels like we are trying to make a grand political gesture.”
The crowd that clearly opposed the mask mandate agreed with that statement in their own sense. Yes, they wanted to make a grand political gesture.
But in the end, all they got was a limp vote that says Hamburg will follow along with the mandate but it won’t be happy about it.
As people began to file out of the High School auditorium, we could hear one person call the board members “cowards” for the stance they took Tuesday. Prior to the debate among the board Tuesday, it was announced that member Cory Johnson had resigned his position.
Photos: Coal Region Canary