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Masks remain optional for Kutztown schools

Masking in the Kutztown School District will remain optional for this upcoming school year.

With a 5-2 vote, the school board approved the updated Health & Safety Plan for the 2022-23 school year that states masking is optional across all school settings. School board members Al Darion and Caecilia Holt voted no. Members Michelle Batz and Dennis Ritter were absent.

Before the vote, board member Jason Koch motioned to amend the statement in the plan that masking is optional across all school settings unless there is a public order indicating otherwise, removing the public order phrase.

“Instead of removing the decision from this board we are maintaining the final decision with the nine elected representatives here instead of a state-appointed official,” Koch said.

“Are you suggesting that if such an order be issued that Kutztown Area School District should ignore it?” Darion asked.

“I’m suggesting that we should have a vote on how we proceed with it,” Koch said.

After a short debate between Koch and Darion over the legality of such orders, the board voted 4-3 to amend the statement to read that masking is optional across all school settings. Holt, Darion and Michael Hess voted against the amendment.

“Part of our principles for governance and leadership is to govern effectively, which includes ensuring compliance with local, state and federal laws,” Holt said.

Holt said he was concerned about demonstrating leadership that flouts a legal requirement.

“Generally speaking, we are always following the law here at Kutztown Area School District,” Holt said. “I can’t support something that is going to say that we won’t.”

Board member Erin M. Engel noted there is a difference between a law and a mandate.

“A law is voted on and is passed,” said Engel.

“I’d agree with that, but we also have lots of mandates that we follow here,” Holt said, adding that they can’t just be ignored.

During public comment, Jeffrey Huffert, middle school librarian, asked about the ramifications of not following a requirement from the state for masking.

“Last time there was an order, there were some listed ramifications,” Superintendent Christian Temchatin said. “I would assume that anything new would have listed ramifications. There were schools that did not follow it across the state. To my knowledge there were no sanctions to them.”

During the superintendent’s report Temchatin provided an update on the plan.

“We’ve had health and safety plans now for what’s going on two years,” Temchatin said. “This is a six-month review that is required per ESSER which is grant funding from federal government and state government that helps us provide a variety of things throughout the school community.”

Not many things will change in the current plan at the end of the previous school year, he said.

“Masking remains an option that students have, but it is not something that is required in any way,” Temchatin said. “We encourage students to stay home when they’re sick. That’s really not a change from past practice, but something with maybe a little more heightened awareness over the past few years.”

Quarantining and contact tracing are not in effect.

“We’ll work with families to follow their doctor’s guidance,” he said. “We’ll work with families to support mitigation and distancing when there’s a comfortability issue for that family within the school community. We can work with different supports when students are absent due to an extended illness.”

At the end of last school year, the district offered on-site COVID testing for families and anyone in the school community through a state program. Temchatin said the district’s on-site COVID testing has been discontinued, a service he hopes the district will not have a need for in the future.

“One part that’s in the health and safety plan — but we currently have no authority over but it needs to be addressed — is that the federal universal free meals has not been reauthorized so we need to encourage families within the school district who may qualify for free or reduced lunch to apply,” Temchatin said.

Source: Berkshire mont

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