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Coronavirus in Schuylkill County

Pottsville School Board Votes to Keep Mask Mandate

pottsville mask mandate remains in place

Tomorrow was supposed to be the first day without mandatory masks at Pottsville Area School District since the beginning of the 2021-22 school term.

But school board members there voted Wednesday against a return to optional face masks for students and staff. Getting to that point wasn’t exactly easy or comprehensible though.

It’s been a little bit since our last mask controversy in Schuylkill County and this latest escapade is enough to make everyone not miss this.

Pottsville Votes to Keep Masks Mandatory in Schools

We’ll unfold what happened at Wednesday’s Pottsville school board meeting but first, here’s the end result of a pretty strange 15 minutes or so.

On Thursday, students, staff, and visitors at Pottsville Area schools will have to wear a face mask. The mandate does not apply to extra-curricular activities.

But to get to that end result, the public witnessed some really confusing scenes unfold among school board members. And it took several votes to get there.

First, the board was voting on a recommendation of the school’s Pandemic Planning Team made back in December to phase out the mask mandate. That update to the Health and Safety Plan called for an end to the mandate on Jan. 12. And on Jan. 13, per that plan, Phase 2 would begin and there’d be no mask mandate.

The school board was voting Wednesday to accept that transition to Phase 2.

Prior to their vote, the school board heard from teachers union president Adrian Portland, who urged them to keep the mask mandate in place. And in voting against the updated Health and Safety Plan – when she believed it would keep the mandate in place at Pottsville – board member Blankenhorn gave a persuasive speech on keeping masks on in schools.

And they did vote on it. The result, initially, was 5-4 to reject the move to Phase 2 and keep the mask mandate in place. Voting for keeping the mask mandate in place – or so they believed – were these school board members:

  • Ann Blankenhorn
  • Ashley DeWitt
  • Craig Shields
  • Linda Wytovich
  • Bob Thomas

Board members who voted to go back to optional masks were:

  • Stephanie Buchanan
  • Michael Cardamone
  • Harry Ciavarella
  • Jerome Urban

So, that’s what everyone thought would be the case. The school board rejects the move to Phase 2 and the mask mandate stays.

But then right after the vote, the board members and a backup solicitor retreated into an executive session. About 15 minutes go by and the board returns from that private pow-wow.

The solicitor informs the public and the board that since they rejected, by their previous vote, the Dec. 14 update to the district’s Health and Safety Plan, the “current” Health and Safety Plan would go back into effect.

And that plan says the school’s mask policy would go based on government or state mandate.

Since that state mandate and no federal mask mandate exists for schools, that would mean there’d be optional masks. By rejecting the revised Health and Safety Plan, the school board essentially voted for the thing it didn’t want.

New board president Cardamone tried to clear up any confusion but …

He said, “Therefore, as of this moment, the original plan statement is in place and that plan statement is based on the fact that we would follow all mandates that were in place. Since there are no mandates in place, what that means now is that there is no mask mandate.”

But the board wasn’t done there.

New board member Thomas spoke up and made a motion to put a mask mandate in place for 1 month. Blankenhorn seconded that motion.

But …

Per new Pennsylvania Sunshine Laws, to add something to the meeting agenda on-the-fly as Thomas was attempting to do, the board had to vote to agree to put it on the agenda.

They take that vote and then Thomas once again tried to motion to put a mask mandate in place for a month.

Cardamone seemed a little confused by the procedures and honestly, so were we for a bit. So again, Thomas repeated that he wanted a temporary one-month mask mandate in place. And between now and then, the board wants Pottsville’s Pandemic Planning Team to come up with a Revised Health and Safety Plan.

Now, if they would just vote. But …

There was a question about whether extra-curricular activities would be included in this temporary mask mandate but long story short … the new one-month mask mandate does not apply to extra-curricular activities. Even when the in-school mask mandate was in place at Pottsville, up to and including Jan. 12, it didn’t apply to those extra-curricular activities.

So, finally a final vote. This vote was on Thomas’ one-month mask mandate. Voting for it were the following:

  • Blankenhorn
  • Cardamone
  • Dewitt
  • Shields
  • Thomas
  • Wytovich

And voting against the idea of a prolonged mask mandate were:

  • Buchanan
  • Ciavarella
  • Urban

We’d hoped the last of the mask mandate stories had been written but we’re not that lucky. Of course, this is certainly better than debating vaccine mandates.

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