The DASD School Board met last Wednesday in a special session. You can watch the livestream here; it will remain up for 30 days.
First, the Board held special votes on two items.
New Board Member
The School Board swore in Margie Miller, who ran as a Republican against incumbent Rebecca Britton, to represent Region 4 (Uwchlan 1, 3, 4, 5, 9). This election result was appealed in November due to some irregularities with counting mail ballots (the margin of victory was in the low single digits), and the courts have finally certified the election results. Director Miller was sworn in to applause, with her extended family in attendance.
Masks Optional: Revised Health and Safety Plan
Next, the Superintendent proposed changes to the Pandemic Health and Safety Plan. You can watch the livestream beginning at 5:12 to hear Dr. Lonardi’s presentation and the discussion.
In response to updates from the CCIU and the pandemic generally moving out of high transmission, DASD had already lifted its mask mandate prior to this meeting. However, this was the formal discussion of the district’s policy moving forward.
Background: CDC Updates
As everyone probably knows by now, the CDC changed its metrics and recommendations for indoor masking. Here is the CDC’s updated guidance.
Basically, the CDC is changing the yardstick. While we have all grown used to looking at “incidence rate per 100k” as measured in low/moderate/substantial/very high, the CDC has found this is now outdated. Between unreported home tests and widespread community immunity, the CDC will now use a “green/yellow/red” model looking mainly at hospitalizations. Here is the CDC’s full explanation for its new model.
In the updated guidelines, the CDC specifically recommends universal masking in K-12 schools in red and recommends masks be an individual choice in yellow (masks are not mentioned at all in green). At the time of the Board meeting, Chester County was in yellow; at the time of this article’s publication, Chester County was in green.
Superintendent Lonardi proposed a new Health and Safety Plan that removed all mask requirements, stating that masks would be optional and schools would respect the choices of all. The HSP says the Board has the option to reevaluate in consultation with the health department. The HSP does not include any mention of masks in red or any other metrics or guidance that would automatically trigger renewed universal masking.
Director Ghrayeb asked for clarity about next steps for families with medically vulnerable children. These families were directed to contact their IEP coordinator or school nurse to begin developing a 504 plan for medical accommodations. Just as some students had been given a mask exemption before, now some students could be accommodated with additional layers of protection on an individual level.
Director Ghrayeb also asked if masks would continue to be available to students and adults in school upon request. The superintendent confirmed that 3-ply surgical masks had always been available in this way and would continue to be.
Then Dr. MacNeal read a statement listing her objections to masking in schools and that she would prefer the HSP not include any mention of monitoring symptoms, disclosing test results, quarantining, or the possibility of masking in the future.
The Board next took public comment on the Health and Safety Plan (beginning at 20:50). Everyone who spoke agreed that masks should be optional at this time. Some were concerned that the Health and Safety Plan broke with the CDC in that it made no mention of masking in Red. Many others requested that mask mandates never return. Parents in this camp had gathered a list of stories from families whose children had experienced negative consequences of masking and spent their collective comment time reading down the list in turn.
The Board voted unanimously for this new Health and Safety Plan. Masks are now optional in DASD schools for the foreseeable future.
This ended the voting portion of the evening. The Board then began discussing its Committee of the Whole agenda. You can find the agenda here.
DASD commissioned an audit of its Communications and the results are now in. This audit worked with surveys and focus groups to look comprehensively at everything from social media to Infinite Campus, and both internal and public communication platforms. There was a brief presentation highlighting the strengths and opportunities for growth in DASD’s communications. A full discussion and report will follow in the coming weeks. Watch the livestream beginning at 45:33 for more detail.
Field Trips and Facilities
Personnel, Curriculum, Policy, Technology, Finance, and Facilities all gave reports on items that will come to vote next week. Most items passed without comment, but there were a couple of discussions that emerged.
First came a question about scheduling field trips before standardized testing. (Watch the livestream beginning at 1:19:43) Several field trips were up for approval, including a state-level robotics competition, an Earth Day-related science trip, and a weeklong trip to France. Should students be taking field trips in the weeks before Keystones and PSSAs, asked Dr. MacNeal? Maybe trips should be pushed to May instead, where possible?
Dr. MacNeal also raised questions about several facilities costs, such as the expense of a new room divider in one elementary school.
These budget items will all be voted on at the 3/9 board meeting. You can review the agenda for a full list.
A short time of general public comment began at 1:55:50 on the livestream. These commenters continued to discuss masks in schools.
There were a few troubling accusations that “masks are child abuse—I’m glad to see you gave up child abuse for Lent.” We were disappointed by some individuals who displayed a lack of empathy for families with medically complex situations. For example, when a Board member asked for clarity about accommodations for immunocompromised children, there were some mutters of “are you kidding me with this?” in the audience. During public comment, one mother repeated a request for notification if her child is exposed to COVID in order to safeguard her chronically ill two-year-old. In response, a member of the public yelled out “Too bad!” Another parent shared that her child chose to wear a mask to school, only to have another student pull it off his face. These incidents reinforce that our DEI programs are deeply needed to help our community understand and have more respect for marginalized populations.
Besides these inconsiderate comments from a few individuals, this meeting was thankfully on the whole more orderly than the last one, with no slander about pedophilia or attempts at exorcisms.
The Board will meet next this Wednesday, March 9. Stay tuned for the agenda, which usually goes live on this page the morning of the meeting.