Tuesday’s Tamaqua Area school board meeting ended with a lot of shouting and some members of the public telling board members that they weren’t welcome in Tamaqua anymore.
You’d think, if you joined the meeting at that moment, that the school board just voted to reverse its stance on violating the state’s mask mandate. Technically, they did, just not right away.
Either way, a majority of the public on hand Tuesday that two weeks ago applauded the decision to defy the mandate was now steaming mad. The board had just voted 6-3 in favor of OK’ing an exemption form that parents can use for their children to not have to wear masks in school … starting on Oct. 4.
Until Oct. 4, Tamaqua students still don’t have to wear masks. And even when Oct. 4 does roll around, there’s a chance Tamaqua students may not have to wear masks.
Confused? So were we.
Tamaqua OK’s Exemption Process for Masks; Will Adhere to Mandate Starting Oct. 4
That’s why we asked school board President Larry Wittig right after Tuesday’s meeting … “What did you just vote to do?”
“We voted to comply with the directive as of Oct. 4th,” he said.
Wittig says that the Wolf administration is planning to review the mask mandate on Oct. 1. He says the state is facing some legal challenges on the mandate and that the review may change the its stance on masks in schools.
He told the public that a “very reliable source” told him the state is going to review the mask order by or before Oct. 1. That’s why the board voted pinned Oct. 4 as the pivotal date.
If the state does back down from the mask mandate after the 1st, then Tamaqua likely will undo the vote it took Tuesday. But if nothing changes, the school will adhere to the mandate and thus, the need to approve the exemption process, as it did on Tuesday, for parents to have their children not wear masks in school.
“The general public needs to trust our methodology here,” Wittig said.
However, Wittig did leave the door open to the school board revisiting the issue of masks after Oct. 1 but before the 4th.
Wittig actually voted in favor of the exemption process on Tuesday, which drew a lot of shocked responses from the 50 or so people who stuck around until nearly 9:45 p.m. to watch the vote. Tuesday’s meeting started at 7 p.m. and following about 20 minutes of committee votes, the board adjourned into an executive session that finally broke at 9:11 p.m.
The public sees Wittig as the person who essentially led the cavalier charge against the state in the mask debate. And here he was on Tuesday, seemingly backing down from that stance.
It wasn’t the letter that Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega sent to he and other board members threatening them with charges and lawsuits, Wittig said. It was money.
“The letter was toothless,” he said, addressing the board and public on Tuesday. “I’m not personally worried about litigation or anything else. I think it’s a shallow threat to get everybody’s attention.”
Wittig says the state can’t take away its subsidy money but he believes it can revoke the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding that Tamaqua is supposed to get from the American Rescue Plan. Tamaqua is due to receive more than $3.8 million in ESSER III funds.
“We have to let this play out to a certain point,” he said.
That money, Wittig says, could be put toward expenses around the Tamaqua campus that would otherwise have to come from the general fund, if it ever did. But if Tamaqua continues to defy the mask mandate, Wittig believes the school won’t get that ESSER III money.
“There’s a laundry list of things that have been deferred,” Wittig told us.
Earlier this month, Tamaqua became the only public school district in Pennsylvania to defy the mask mandate handed down by the Wolf administration through his Acting Health Secretary. The order mandated face masks be worn in schools by students, staff, and visitors.
This mandate flew in the face of many schools across the state which previously voted to make masks optional, leaving parents to decide if their children would wear masks to school.
- State Threatens Tamaqua School Board Members Defying Mask Mandate
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