Keystone schools to mask up Monday

Keystone School District will actively enforce the state Department of Health’s face mask mandate starting Monday.

The decision came Oct. 4 after two hours of public comment and a 6-3 vote during the school board’s meeting.

In the end, it was a 1955 state law the board cited in agreeing the state Department of Health’s mandate must be followed. Board member Ken Swartfager said the board is restricted by the Disease Prevention and Control Act.

He explained when the law was under consideration and development in the 1950s, local county, municipal, and school governments were given the opportunity to set their own health and safety guidelines.

Because Clarion County, the townships and boroughs in the school district, and the school district itself did not set their own health and safety regulations, all of the entities surrendered that power to the state Department of Health.

“So, by default, we have to abide by commonwealth law,” Swartfager said. “We don’t like (the mandate), but we have to take care of your child and the state wants us to use masks.”

He also pointed out the law and its related ordinances are specific in outlining penalties and fines and noted anyone with a state-issued professional or business license could face nonrenewal or revocation of those licenses if they knowingly violate the law.

Swartfager acknowledged the 150 to 200 people in attendance — nearly all of whom opposed the mask ordinance — but added the school board represents all district taxpayers, including parents in favor of the masking requirement and property owners without children in the school system.

He told meeting attendees if they want to change the law, they must take their complaint to Harrisburg.

Jason Say, who co-founded the “My Kid My Choice” group, countered changing the law through Harrisburg could “take years” and quick action now would likely be vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Board member Jim Beary, who made the original motion two weeks ago to actively enforce the mandate, amended his motion to begin enforcement on Oct. 11, but board President John Slagle asked Beary to move the date to Oct. 18.

Slagle said the state Legislature is considering Senate Bill 846, which would allow parents or legal guardians to opt their child out of wearing a face covering or mask, despite the mandate imposed by the state Secretary of Health or school board.

The final motion included enforcement of the masking mandate as ordered by the Department of Health beginning Monday, with district administrators empowered to adjust accordingly if Senate Bill 846 were to become law.

District Superintendent Michael McCormick said last month the parents of students who refused to wear a mask would be notified of their child’s violation. If the parent did not persuade the student to wear a mask, the student would be sent home.