RUSSELL, Pa. – A split Warren County School Board voted to issue only warnings to students who don’t wear masks on school buses, despite a federal mandate that requires masks to be worn.
In a 5-3 vote at Monday’s meeting, the board elected to issue only warnings only for students who fail to comply.
The board members in favor were Jeff Labesky, Kevin Lindvay, Arthur Stewart, Paul Mangione, and Elizabeth Huffman. Voting against were Mary Passinger, Marcy Morgan, and Donna Zariczny. Board member Joe Colosimo was absent from the meeting.
The vote left the minority board members wondering if the district has opened itself up to potential trouble.
“We’re walking in dangerous territory here,” Passinger said. “The federal mandate is that we have to have them on transportation. Everyone knows that by saying we’re going to give a warning, that we’re ignoring it. There’s no way that it can be interrupted as anything other than we’re not going to do anything about it.”
The majority of board members felt that the ‘warnings only’ policy was fair.
“As a board, we can monitor the behavior on transportation,” Huffman said. “We are following guidelines. We are simply saying that a warning will be issued to those students. If there are problems we can revisit that issue. In no way are we taking a stance that we put ourselves in jeopardy.”
Warren County School District Superintendent Amy Stewart reiterated that it is a mandate.
“I want to reiterate that face coverings are mandated on any school transportation,” Stewart said. “We’re following what the CDC says. Face masks are recommended, not mandated, in school buildings.”
The first day of school is Tuesday.
During public comment, Jewel Rozanski thanked the board for their mask policy that doesn’t make mask-wearing a requirement.
“We’re thankful for you not requiring masks,” Rozanski said. “Last year, we found our hands and yours tied. It is becoming increasingly difficult if not impossible to find the truth about this pandemic. We need to come together and embrace choice on this issue. We all want to do what is best for their children. No matter what side of the fence we are on, all parents should come together as examples of respect, tolerance and compassion.
“We are standing behind you and support your decision. You have and will continue to have a very difficult road ahead, and we all thank you. If local choice is removed at any point, we will fight for the best interest of our children. We hope our voice will make it clear that a mask mandate is not what people want.”
The CDC in August said that teachers, staff, students, and visitors should wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccines, while children 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
“When teachers, staff, and students consistently and correctly wear a mask, they protect others as well as themselves,” guidance from the CDC said. “Consistent and correct mask use is especially important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
Numerous area football teams have already found themselves shutting down because of COVID-19 concerns including Mercyhurst Prep, Fort LeBoeuf, Punxsutawney, and Moniteau in Northwestern Pennsylvania. This before many schools are even in session.
Schools in other parts of the country have had to shut down over COVID-19 concerns after starting up early in August.