DTSD votes to revise Health and Safety plan, keep masks for now

Sophia Tunks, reporter

The revised Health and Safety plan passed by the Derry Township School Board did not include the removal of masks, but it did include several other safety precautions for students and staff in school. 

After much debate on December 13, 2021, the revised plan passed with a vote of 8-1. “The plan was revised because the primary responsibility is to keep kids in school,” said DTSD Board President Donna Cronin.

The safety plan that was approved on Monday night includes the addition of the Derry Township Pandemic Team, which will meet on a monthly basis to review. The Pandemic Team will recommend changes for masking to the school board as CDC guidelines change. 

Under the plan’s category of social distancing, elementary and middle school lunches will start utilizing extra spaces around the schools in order to distance students six feet apart. 

Another addition to the plan includes the rapid COVID testing available at the school for students and staff. This will be available for those identified as close contacts and for those who arrive at school with symptoms. No students will be tested without signed parental consent. 

The decision made by the school board was initiated because of a ruling made by Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano on November 16th.

Cannon ruled that Pennsylvania’s mask mandate for schools, which went into effect at the beginning of the school year, was “void and unenforceable.” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam did not have the authority to issue the regulation of mandatory masking, according to Judge Cannon. Shortly after, Wolf’s administration filed an appeal to Cannon’s ruling, which delayed the expiration of the mask mandate December 4th.

Canon’s ruling gave time for Wolf’s administration to write and initiate a mask mandate through emergency regulation while the Supreme Court took up the case. 

Judges agreed with the statement that state law did not explicitly allow Alison Beam to order a mask mandate, and the state never created a regulation under the state’s disease control law to allow it. The Department of Health appealed the decision and the State Supreme Court was deciding if masking should continue in schools. 

“Remember, this case is about the secretary’s ability to put an order in place, not the feasibility of masks,” said Noe Ortega, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. 

Governor Tom Wolf announced that he would hand over the authority of making decisions about mask mandates to the local school districts on January 17th, 2022. However, the new ruling caused masks to come off in schools before then.

“My administration made it clear that we would continue to reevaluate the status of the school mask mandate. We are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting,” said Governor Tom Wolf during a prepared statement. 

On November 30th, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled to have the mask mandate stay in place until at least December 8th. The ruling is currently pending further consideration and arguments in the case have not been released. Many health professionals have stated that the best decision would be to keep masks in place because schools are a “perfect set up to transmit COVID,” said UPMC Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Goldman, according to ABC 27 News. 

According to 6ABC News, many school districts, including Derry Township, have said that even when the mandate expires, they will still require masking for their students and staff. DTSD came to the decision to currently keep masks in place because of the argument that it is the safest and smartest way to keep students and staff in school for the remainder of the school year.