Protest Held Outside WCSD Central Office

school mask mandate
A group protesting the school mask mandate stands outside Warren County School District Central Offices in Russell on Sept. 7, 2021.

RUSSELL, Pa. – Parents who oppose the statewide indoor mask order for schools staged a protest outside the Warren County School District Central Office on Tuesday.

The order, which was issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 7, requires everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face-covering while inside all K-12 schools and child care facilities.

The group outside the central office Tuesday felt that the WCSD Board of Directors should have kept the masks optional policy the district had in its Health and Safety Plan at the start of the year.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said one of those parents, Donna Cruz. “I just want to make sure that any other choices that come up are up to me and for anything coming down the line. There’s other things that are trying to be implemented right now and I just want to make sure that they don’t make that choice for me as well. So yes, I’m standing here for not only this (the mask mandate) but for other things as well.”

WSCD school board member Mary Passinger made it clear during an emergency board meeting on Sept 2, that the district has no choice but to comply with the state order.

“I want the public to know, we’ve checked with three different solicitors and they’ve all said that we do not have a choice in this,” Passinger said. “If we do not follow the mandate, the district could be liable for all kinds of things. I’m all for parent choice, but we don’t have that choice.”

District solicitor Chris Byham told board members during the emergency meeting that the state order would preclude any action the district took.

“I mean, basically, the way the order was worded is that the order usurps and applies regardless of whether the school district amends its plan or not,” Byham said.

Still, however, some parents are fighting for that choice.

“We would like to get another school board meeting,” parent and protestor Bridget Schwab said. “There needs to be adequate time for this to be heard and discussed and we don’t feel like there was adequate time at the last school board meeting. We just want it to be brought back up again. That’s our hope right now. That’s the first step.”

Gov. Tom Wolf made clear when he announced the order for the mandate last week that he felt it was a necessary step.

“This is a necessary step to keep our students and teachers safe and in the classroom, which is where they all need to be,” Wolf said. “Doing nothing right now to stop COVID-19, that’s just not an option. We have to act now to protect our students and our teachers. We have to get back to what matters, keeping students safe and keeping students in the classroom.”

A number of cars passing by on Tuesday honked and showed their support, with Cruz and Schwab noting that most of the feedback they got from people was positive.

“We’re not out here because we want to be,” Schwab said. “We’re out here because it should be our choice whether our kids wear masks or not.”