A masking issue at U-CF

With the new school year beginning on Aug. 30, Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board directors must decide how to open schools while still dealing with the effects of COVID-19. At issue is an updated health and safety plan and whether to have students wear masks in school when classes resume.

Public discussions began during the Aug. 9 work session. The board heard a basic plan, but a long conversation dealt with the mask issue. The directors' long, back and forth discussion followed an earlier public comment period in which a half dozen parents said they don't want masks made mandatory. As one parent said, "My child, my choice."

Brian Lamb told the board, “Health care decisions should be made by parents…When it’s my child, it should be my choice.”

Lamb added that many parents ceded that responsibility during the pandemic, but he said that was because of an ongoing health crisis and state of emergency in the state, but that is no longer the case.

He said that the initial concern was that children were at risk from COVID and could spread COVID, both of which have proven false. Adding that the vaccine campaign in the county has been successful, there's no need for a mask mandate.

Lamb also said the debate may be about whether masks are good or not, but just because they may be good is no reason to take rights away from the parent.

Another parent, Lori Peters, said masking and social distancing is harmful to social and emotional development because they “impair a child’s ability to see and read human faces.” It also makes learning more difficult because masks interfere with a teacher’s ability to hold students’ attention and emotionally bond with them, she said.

Peters also said the level of vaccination in the county is sufficient for there to be no mask mandate. Instead, she wants masking made optional, up to each family's discretion.

Yet another parent said children had been used as political pawns and, as Lamb said, it’s up to the parents to decide how to protect their children.

Three other parents said the same things during the public comment period, some citing figures indicating what one called “a minuscule” risk to children.

Later in the session, the board members began their discussion with Assistant Superintendent Tim Hoffman giving a brief overview of the proposed health and safety plan. A copy of the plan can be found here.

The basics of the plan include full-day, daily in-person classes. There will be no hybrid measures, but parents will have an option for remote instruction for their children. However, remoting into and out of class will be reserved for students with COVID or those under quarantine.

Also, mitigation measures will continue, and masking requirements will be determined by the number of COVID cases per 100,000 in a seven-day period in the community, Hoffman said.

The district will continue taking guidance from the CDC, state and county health departments, and from the district’s consultant, Dr. Salwa Sulieman.

During the long discussion, directors had more questions than answers. However, in response to a question about how masks might affect quarantining, Superintendent John Sanville said there is an advantage to masking in at least one situation.

“If the person who is COVID-positive is masked, and you as a close contact are also masked, [that] mitigates the need to quarantine. So, there is benefit to masking if everyone in the classroom is masked,” Sanville said.

Later, when asked directly whether the administration would keep track of who is wearing and who is not wearing masks, Sanville said, “Sure.”

He added that, as with all other types of infectious diseases such as chickenpox, measles, or pertussis, the district would report the incidents to the county health department. And that would lead to contact tracing which then could lead to recommendations regarding quarantines.

No decision was made during the work session. That will come next week at the regular board meeting.

Other business

The board named Josh Leight as e new principal at Hillendale Elementary School. Leight replaces Mike Audevard, who was appointed the new K-12 director of curriculum and instruction in June. Audevard replaced Tim Hoffman in that position because Hoffman was named the new assistant superintendent to replace John Nolen, who retired.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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