September 3, 2021
Dear Parents, Guardians, Teachers, Staff, and Friends,
As most of you are aware, Governor Wolf issued a mandatory mask mandate for all Pennsylvania schools and day care centers that takes effect on Tuesday after Labor Day. I don’t need to point out that this is a hot button issue with very strong feelings on both sides. I have heard from both parents who support masking and those who are against it. There continues to be legislative and judicial efforts to overturn the mandate that may or may not have an impact. Some districts decided to let parents opt out and as a result, we are expecting new guidance today from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Health that will limit exemptions to those students with a doctor’s note excusing them from wearing a mask. We have consulted with our solicitor regarding our responsibilities under the mandate and have been advised that as a public institution, we are bound to follow the mandate. Ignoring it could open us up to liability, possible criminal penalties, and withholding of state funds. We do not have a choice that would not involve putting the district at financial risk, which we are not willing to do. Accordingly, without any new court rulings or further guidance from the Department of Health, we intend to enforce the mask mandate.
At the end of last week, we had 110 students in grades K-12 out of school on quarantine. These students will each miss 5-10 days of school depending on test results. Under the 2021-2022 guidelines direct contacts who are wearing masks do not need to quarantine. If all of our students were masked all of last week, we would now only have 5 students out on quarantine instead of 10% of our school population. I believe in the mask order because I believe it is our best bet to keep kids in school. I don’t want to go back to last year where my first decision every day was can we open or not? The legislature has the right to set aside the Governor’s mandate within 21 days. I have very little doubt that will happen on September 27th . I ask that parents and guardians respect this decision and abide by the mask order until it is lifted. Please do not send your children to school without a mask. If you do, we will provide one. If a student refuses to wear a mask, we will contact you to come pick your child up.
I know this decision will be unpopular, and it is not made lightly. Our sole motivation is to continue as normal a school life for our students as possible. While masks intrude on that, it is better for students than sitting at home learning online. We would like to avoid that for as long as possible and maybe altogether. We ask for your help in accomplishing that.
Dr. Jerry Shoemake