GC school board

Katie Bowers talks about face masks during the Grove City School Board work session held Wednesday night.

A tie vote spelled defeat for a Grove City Area School Board resolution that would have criticized state officials for their handling of Pennsylvania’s school mask mandate.

The resolution said, in part, that while the board members disagree with the order requiring masks for students, they recognize that the district must comply.

It died after a tie vote of 3 to 3, with board President Doug Gerwick and members Dr. Constance Nichols and Patty Wilson voted “yes.”

Board Vice President Ryan Thomas and members J. Scott Somora and Heather Baker voted “no.”

Dr. Armando Sciullo, Augie Hurst and Lee McCracken were absent.

Somora said the resolution was a way for the board to ease its conscience from doing something wrong — enforcing the mask mandate.

He said masking should be up to parents and said the mandate is illegal control of the district by state officials. He likened the mandate to the board’s decision to discontinue its practice of saying a prayer before each meeting to avoid potential lawsuits.

“I’ve tried to fix ‘stupid’ for 12 years and I can’t do it myself,” said Somora, whose term ends in December. He is not seeking re-election.

People on both sides of the mask issue have passionate feelings, and the resolution deals with how the order came down, not the board’s stance on masks, Nichols said.

“I don’t have a problem with the resolution,” she said.

Grove City Area School District started classes on Aug. 30 with face coverings being optional.

On Aug. 31, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade would be required to wear face coverings starting Sept. 7.

The district has its own health and safety plan, which addresses how various situations in relation to COVID-19 should be handled, Nichols said.

The order caused “significant confusion and unnecessary hardship to the district at the start of the school year for students, parents, families, teachers, school employees, administrators and the board of school directors,” Gerwick read from the resolution, which noted that the district is complying with the order according to state and federal laws.

The order was amended, expanded and reissued on Sept. 3, causing further stress and confusion, he said.

During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Dr. James Brooks asked the board not to adopt the resolution.

“Stand up for your authority as a school board,” he said.

He attended last Wednesday’s board work session, where parents and community members, including Brooks, urged the board to allow face masks to be optional for students.

Brooks said he appreciates the district’s hard work during this challenging time and said he wanted to clarify that parents are not treating children as political pawns – he said he was referencing a comment made during the work session.

He explained how the state constitution is based on local control, giving the school board the authority to oversee the district – not the state.

The district has a right to sue, Brooks said. Gerwick said during the work session that the board cannot sue the state in relation to the mask mandate.

Brooks also asked the board to reject three policy updates proposed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The school board voted down two of the three proposals.

The first reading of Policy 209 was approved 5 to 1 with Somora voting “no.” The policy, which moves on to a second reading for potential adoption, addresses health exams and screenings “in compliance with applicable law and regulations, and board-approved health and safety plans.”

The first reading of Policy 314 failed in a 3 to 3 vote. Baker, Somora and Thomas voted “no,” and Wilson, Nichols and Gerwick voted “yes.” The policy would have adopted updated language on physical examinations, which all district employees would complete before employment; that could include health monitoring to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases in the school setting.

All six board members voted “no” on Policy 705, which will go back to the policy committee for another review. That policy would cover facilities and workplace safety, requiring all students, staff and visitors to adhere to state and local health and safety orders, board policy, administrative regulations and board-approved plans requiring face coverings.

The board heard from one more community member during public comment. Chawnie Jones, who also spoke at the work session, was one of four people in attendance.

Everyone was wearing a face mask as required by the district, and the meeting was offered virtually via Zoom.

Jones said Pennsylvania is not in a state of emergency, and the only time kids have to wears masks is at school.

“It makes zero sense whatsoever,” she said.

The board’s next meetings are: 10 a.m. Sept. 28, educational services and COVID-19 committee meetings; 7 p.m. Oct. 4, standing committees and work session; and 7 p.m. Oct. 11, voting meeting.

For connection information and meeting agendas, visit www.grovecity.k12.pa.us

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