Mars school board addresses mask stance

Faces uncovered during meeting

August 6, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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During a virtual work session and voting meeting Tuesday night, Mars Area School Board President John Kennedy responded to masking concerns voiced last month by district parents and staff.

At a July board meeting, some district officials did not wear a mask. Community members at that time reminded the board that Gov. Tom Wolf requires masks be worn in a public setting.

Kennedy responded to those comments Tuesday.

“We walk in with our mask on. We social distance,” Kennedy said. “If we feel comfortable, we can take our mask off.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education states Wolf's official masking mandate levied in July means students aren't required to wear masks while eating, sitting or engaging in an activity that allows for at least 6 feet of space between people. Students also aren't required to wear a mask when doing so is dangerous to their welfare.

The department also said districts should provide “face-covering breaks” during the day for students. Students younger than 2 years of age or who have a medical condition or documented disability that prevents masks are exempt from the mandate.

On Tuesday, Kennedy said the department's instructions apply to district officials too. That is, they don't need to wear their masks at all times.

“Once you are socially distanced, you can take your mask off,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the reason members of the board didn't formally respond to the concerns of parents and staff last month was because he doesn't like to debate visitors during public comment.

“I've asked our board not to debate people in public comment,” Kennedy said. “Public comment is public comment. It's not the debate hour.”

The district announced its stance on masking in June, but forgot to in July, according to Kennedy. He indicated this may have led to confusion.

“If you feel that you can take your mask off … you may,” Kennedy said. “If not, that's perfectly fine with me.”

Kennedy said the district will follow the Department of Education's protocol when students return to school Aug. 31. Per department guidance, the district doesn't need to require proof of exemption eligibility if a student doesn't wear a mask to school.

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Samantha Beal

Samantha Beal