WCSD School Board Rescinds Motions, Updates Health and Safety Plan

October 8, 2021

RUSSELL, Pa. – The Warren County School District Board of Directors voted unanimously to rescind a pair of controversial motions regarding masking during a special meeting Friday.

Both agenda items presented to rescind the motions were moved as presented and generated no discussion among board members before being passed unanimously.

“I would like to thank my fellow board members for their unanimous vote on these motions and the consistent message this provides to our administration, staff, students, and community on the implementation of our health and safety plan,” Board President Donna Zariczny said.

The two motions were the basis for a lawsuit filed by a group of students and parents on Oct. 4.

The first was passed during a special meeting on Aug. 30, and said the district would issue warnings only for students who fail to comply with the mask requirement on district transportation.

The second was passed during the board’s regular meeting on Sept. 13, and allowed parents to claim a mask exception for their child without substantiation from a medical professional.

Plaintiffs in the suit argued the motions were not in compliance with the CDC’s mask order for public transportation and the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s indoor mask order for K-12 schools.

Federal District Judge Susan P. Baxter issued a temporary restraining order on Oct. 5 that said the district had to use the 504 Plan and Rehabilitation Act (IDEA) processes to grant mask exemptions.

The board also unanimously passed an update to the district’s ARP ESSER Health and Safety Plan that contains language that states all individuals must wear a mask indoors unless the person has “a medical or mental health condition or disability documented in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or IDEA, that precludes the wearing of a mask/face covering.”

The Plan goes on to state that students who violate the mask order will be subject to discipline under the Discipline Code and staff subject to the district’s employee discipline policies.

In response to a question from board member Marcy Morgan, WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart clarified that the 504 or IDEA process does not necessarily require medical documentation in order to grant an exemption.

“What we’re doing is what we always have done,” Stewart said. “We’re using the 504 process and the IDEA process. So, we’re using those, those processes to identify, and they have different levels of requirements.”

“And they don’t always require a medical excuse,” Morgan asked.

“Correct,” Stewart said.

On the final agenda item, the board agreed to hire Burns White Attorneys at Law, a Pittsburgh-based firm, as legal counsel in the lawsuit. An evidentiary and preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 10 a.m. in Erie.

It’s unclear what impact Friday’s board action will have on the suit. A call to Kenneth R. Behrend, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the suit, seeking comment had not been returned as of 8:45 a.m. Oct. 8.

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