Testy start to UCF meeting

Monday night's Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board meeting got off to a testy start when board members walked off the stage because a parent did not stop talking at the end of his allotted three minutes during public comment.

Chad Williams of Birmingham Township opened his comments, saying he would not abide by the time limit, and proceeded to be critical of the board for what he said would likely be a board vote to mandate the masking of students when the school year begins on Aug. 30. He said his words were more important than those of school directors who don’t have kids attending school in the district.

As he strongly stated his position against forcing students to be masked, Williams reached the three-minute limit. When Board President Jeff Hellrung advised that his time was up, Williams refused to stop stalking Hellrung then called a 20-minute recess. That was about eight minutes into the meeting, and the live stream stopped at the 12-minute mark.

Before the recess, Williams said he was addressing his comments to other parents because the school board hasn't listened for the past year and a half regarding the masking issue.  He said that masks are harmful to students, and even more so now since the kids aren't in danger from COVID or its variant and that teachers and others who are eligible for the vaccination have gotten them if they wanted to.

“This evening our school board will vote, most likely unanimously to require our children to wear ineffective masks for more than seven hours a day to allegedly protect them from a virus that represents less of a risk to them than the many respiratory viruses to which they’ve been exposed their entire lives,” Williams said. “Our kids will be required to wear these masks in perpetuity or at least until the youngest among them can take a vaccine they do not need and represents a far greater risk to them than any benefit.”

Before the microphones were cut off, Hellrung and Williams were overtalking one another, and, at one point, a woman called out saying she would give her time to Williams.

When the meeting eventually resumed, several other parents also spoke out against the use of masks. One said forcing K-5 students to wear masks is ridiculous and forces mask anxiety. He said he has a daughter who threw up in her mask last year because she became sick to her stomach and was afraid to remove her mask.

Another parent said she doesn’t think the board members care about what the parents have to say and that the board has no regard for parents’ opinions about masking.

Yet another said COVID was less dangerous to kids than the seasonal flu and that the CDC is alone in advocating masks for young school children.

“I ask that you vote against masks and distancing, especially for the younger kids,” he said.

All the discussion led to the vote on the health and safety plan (found here}, with its masking recommendation. The plan — which requires masking for elementary schools when community spread is moderate or worse and recommends masking even when community spread is low — passed unanimously.

Superintendent of Schools John Sanville said masks would be optional outside and during physical education class and other times during high exertion activities or while eating lunch.

“It’s not a full six-hour-day masking,” he said, adding the CDC is still mandating students wear masks while on a school bus.

Several board members asked Sanville about masking, as several of the parents mentioned. He said the first person to address a student’s anxiety would be the teacher, and the teachers have received training for such instances.

“They are adept at understanding when a child is in distress or under stress or experiencing anxiety. We have a very strong behavioral health team that includes counselors, psychologists, and social workers in every building,” Sanville said. “But it starts with the classroom, and our teachers have received training in a lot of different ways.”

During the discussion on the plan, Directors Erin Talbert and Tom Day said the priority is to keep schools open and to maintain the continuity of education for the students in the district.

As Hellrung offered his opinion on masking, he said that was only one of the mitigation measures. Another is for all eligible people to be vaccinated.

“The current outbreak of those who are hospitalized is an outbreak of the unvaccinated,” he said.

But at least one member of the public attending in public shouted, “That’s a lie! There’s no support for that at all.”

Several others in attendance applauded.

Hellrung continued saying even vaccinated people should wear masks in crowded indoor spaces. He also reminded parents not to send their kids to school if they have any COVID-like symptoms.

In an email sent over the weekend, Sanville said:

“The success of our plan is reliant upon the continuation of mitigation measures including masking (on district transportation and as required inside), increased air exchanges and improved ventilation, HEPA filters, social distancing, assurance testing, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette.

“Quarantining will be implemented as determined by the Chester County Health Department. The guidelines include close contact with an infected individual and there are exceptions based on vaccination and mask-wearing status.”

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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