Peters Township School District and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh will require masking for students of all ages, faculties and staff at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year.
The school board voted 5: 4 on Monday to change the Peters parish health and safety plan, while the diocese announced the changes to its policy in a press release on Tuesday.
The vote in Peters Township followed dozens of comments from township residents who either supported the universal masking or pleaded with school board members not to change their original plan, which went into effect July 1.
Peters Township School board members Minna Allison, Rebecca Bowman, Ronald Dunleavy, Jennifer Grossman and Daniel Taylor voted for the change, while Lisa Anderson, Rolf Briegel, Joseph Deegan and Thomas McMurray, board chairmen, voted against the use of masks.
As assumed in June, Peters Township’s Health and Safety Plan had stated: “Face covers are optional unless ordered by order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the governor, or other government agency.”
Although the state has not issued a mandate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines on July 27th recommending everyone over the age of 2 to wear masks in school buildings.
Harry Funk / The Almanac
The wearing of face coverings is mixed outside the Peters Township School District administration building. A limited number of people were able to take a seat in the boardroom of the school authorities on Monday due to space and distance reasons.
Superintendent Jeannine French opened the board meeting with updates on the district’s ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants.
“Last year we were one of the few districts in the nation that offered full face-to-face learning from the beginning of school, and we learned a lot,” she said. “We will continue many of these containment efforts. I want to emphasize that we will continue our intensified purification. We will continue with increasing airflow and keep physical distance. “
During the 2020-21 school year, students who opted for distance learning reduced on-site attendance, which in turn allowed sufficient distance between individuals.
“This year – I want to be completely transparent – we won’t have a meter of space in all of our areas. We will therefore follow the recommendation to keep at least a meter of space, ”said French. “Our elementary school children, K through 3, will have lunch in their classrooms. Above their grade level we will use large group areas so that we can physically distance ourselves. “
She said the Pennsylvania Department of Health changed its requirements for “close contact,” defined as “a person who has been exposed to an infected person within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 consecutive minutes.”
“If both people, the infected person and the exposed person, are both masked, the exposed person does not have to leave school,” said French. “This also saves us time at school.”
In response to questions and suggestions district officials received from township residents, attorney Rebecca Heaton Hall of Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC addressed some applicable laws.
“We are required by the Pennsylvania Code to report the spread of a communicable disease within 24 hours. If the school administration does not report these cases, the school administration may be subject to a criminal offense or a professional permit, ”she said. “The school management is also prohibited from interfering in investigations that result from reporting the communicable disease.”
She noted that state law also contains “regulations that outline and mandate isolation and quarantine procedures for students and staff with a communicable disease.”
“Additionally, if we suspect that a student has an infectious disease or you’ve come into contact with others with the communicable disease, we must also follow isolation and quarantine procedures,” she said.
The Department of Health will be empowered to “implement any disease control action that the department or local health authority deems appropriate to monitor the disease,” she said. “This also includes the ability of the Ministry of Health to close our school buildings.”
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced that schools in the diocese will begin the 2021-2022 school year with mandatory indoor masking for students, faculty and staff, regardless of vaccination status, unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit their use.
“Although we had hoped to allow optional masking, this is not possible at this point in time,” wrote Michelle Peduto, director of the Catholic Schools, in an August 17 letter to students, families, teachers and staff. “The quarantine logs in an optional mask environment would seriously affect our ability to provide personal instructions. We need to evaluate how the first month of class affects the COVID numbers for students of all ages. “
During the 2020-2021 school year, schools in the Diocese of Pittsburgh offered face-to-face tuition. Some classes or schools are occasionally temporarily closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Peduto wrote that “our goals continue to be to ensure the safety of staff and students while providing face-to-face classes five days a week”.
The diocese relied on guidelines from county, state, and federal health officials, as well as advice from local pediatricians and infection doctors.
Peduto said frequent mask breaks are ensured, preferably outdoors.
The schools continue to adhere to the cleaning and disinfection procedures and ensure that the classrooms are adequately ventilated.
Positive coronavirus cases will continue to be reported to the health authorities.
Peduto said the mask guideline will be re-evaluated in late September and the guideline may change based on updated federal, state and county guidelines.
“The mission of our Catholic schools is to create an environment in which your children, children of God, can encounter Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, every day. We live this mission by loving God above all and loving our neighbor above ourselves. We believe this policy statement best demonstrates both, ”wrote Peduto.
The Chartiers-Houston School Board will not require students to wear a mask, despite the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Gary D. Peiffer to oblige Allison Elementary School students and staff to wear masks while Washington County continues to have significant or high levels of COVID-19 prevalence.
“I think we have a moral obligation to protect children and I think it’s part of the job of being a school board member and principal to make those recommendations,” said Peiffer.
The board of directors voted 5 to 4 at its regular board meeting on Monday against a motion to have elementary school students and staff wear the masks while the transmission rate is substantial or high.