Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Pottsgrove Moves to Mask Mandate, for Four Weeks

Pottsgrove Schools Superintendent David Finnerty explains the district's new masking policy during Tuesday night's school board meeting.

Doesn't it just figure that just as schools are getting ready to open, or have already opened, that COVID-19 would throw a wrench into things?

In this case, it seems more like delta, COVID-s mutant cousin, that's doing the wrench throwing. Across the region, school districts that looked to start school without mandating masks have found themselves confounded by rising infections and making early course corrections.

The latest domino to fall -- in the wake of Owen J. Roberts, Phoenixville, Boyertown and Spring-Ford -- is Pottsgrove.

Earlier this month, the Pottsgrove School Board adopted a policy that would recommend masks, but not require them. But Tuesday night, that policy was changed when the board voted 6-1 to require mask wearing by all staff and students for the first four weeks of school.

Like in other districts, the board agreed with the administration that the way the health guidelines are  written, the best way to keep students who have been in "close contact" with someone who tests positive for the virus from having to quarantine for seven days is to ensure everyone is wearing a mask.

"Masking saves two kids from being excluded" from class, said Superintendent David Finnerty.

Pottsgrove School Board President Robert Lindgren
"Remote learning and hybrid learning was not in the best interest for our students and their education. We want all of our students in school for 180 days this year, so we're going to run this experiment," said Pottsgrove School Board President Robert Lindgren. "If just as many get sick, we'll know the masks don't work."

Lindgren said when schools were closed last year Gov. Tom Wolf, "we had to invent remote teaching, on the fly."

While some school boards -- (he's looking at you Spring-Ford) -- have complained about the lack of a mandate from federal, state and county health authorities regarding masks, Lindgren said he sees it as an opportunity.

"What we're trying to do is to get everybody back in school, and we've been given this freedom. Last year, if two people looked at each other we had to quarantine the for 14 days," Lindgren said. "I'm not a big believer in masks, but if we keep masks on, we get to keep kids in school."

Not everyone agreed with that reasoning.

Four people spoke against the mask mandate Tuesday, Andrew Korman, Dustin DiTello, Katie Coppa and Brittany Bradley.

Korman said he had the virus and for the last 500 days his body continues to produce anti-bodies "to this day." He noted that "the Amish community is not running around with its hair on fire about this virus."

"When does it stop?" asked Korman. "Subtle coercion is still coercion."

After the vote, Korman pointed to all the times medical authorities have said mask wearing would make things better, but it did not. He said South Korea has a masking wearing rate near 99 percent, but cases are rising there.
Dustin DiTello

DiTello said he too had COVID and was hospitalized, but said he and his family have had an activesummer "and guess what we didn't do? Wear masks. Now I'm supposed to tell my kids to pretend COVID is a dangerous killer? It's not."

He said when he was on the COVID ward, "we had to be fitted for masks," and those masks were N-95 professional masks. Without those, Pottsgrove's precaution is meaningless, said DiTello.

After the vote, he asked "what are the alternatives" to wearing a mask. What consequences will his children face for not wearing one, a question also asked by Sanatoga Post journalist Joe Zlomek. Neither received a public answer.

If you want to wear a mask, wear one. If you want your child to wear one. Wear one. Wear 10. I'll help you put it on, said Coppa "I want everyone to ask their children how they fell about having to wear a mask eight hours a day."

After the vote, Coppa said "cases is not the litmus test we should be looking at. Hospitalizations and deaths, as morbid as it sounds, is what we should be looking at."

Christina Fisher
Bradley, who said she is a school nurse, said masks do more harm than good. "Breathing hot, warm, moist, air, is a perfect environment for viruses to grow," she said. 

Another medical professional, Christina Fisher told the board she works in bio-tech making vaccines. she said merely "recommending masks" means many people will not. 

She thanked the board members and administration for making the change and requiring masks.

Dave Duchevsky also welcomed the change. He also told the board that during a school open house, he saw kindergarten desks clustered together in groups of four and suggested that is now way to maintain the three feet of social distancing now being recommended by health authorities.

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