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C-K letting students opt out of masks

Board approves forms for parents to exempt children

CLAYSBURG — The Claysburg-Kimmel School Board approved non-medical, parent choice mask exemptions for students Wednesday evening.

District officials said a form will be available online by noon today for parents to opt their children out of masking.

The decision came after more than an hour-and-a-half of public comment where parents, students, district alumni and residents mostly voiced their disapproval and anger with the state mask mandate and enforcement at local schools.

At the conclusion of the public comment period, board member Mandi Daugherty moved to allow the exemptions without a doctor’s note. Amy Gill seconded the motion, and both were met with an explosion of applause and standing ovations from the audience.

The board held a brief discussion with members raising financial and legal liability concerns, before the 6-2 vote. Board members Jeremy Knott and Roger Knisely voted against the motion.

More than 70 people attended the meeting in the Claysburg-Kimmel High School auditorium, with almost 20 people formally addressing the board in 5-minute sessions. The majority of speakers voiced concerns of government overreach, the well-being of children and side effects from masking.

One speaker said she believed the mask issue is not the school board’s decision, but instead the state’s.

Nicole McCreary of East Freedom said her young children have yet to experience what school is truly like. The mother said her children are in their formative years and are missing out on crucial learning opportunities for social skills and non-verbal communication.

Many of those who spoke said they trust the school district with their children, calling them their “most precious gifts from God, not pawns of the government.” The parents said the personal medical decisions should be made by parents, not board members elected for educational experiences.

Multiple residents said the board should not place money before their children.

Nicole Fitzpatrick of Claysburg questioned why there was no mask requirement at the beginning of the school year, but that it was needed two weeks into the school year.

“It’s interesting to me that a virus that is so life-threatening is scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 7, to go into effect that we have to wear masks,” Fitzpatrick said. “If this is as serious as our government is saying, why was it not effective immediately?”

Imler resident Mandy Keith, who said she has worked as a nurse for 17 years, raised concerns over children wearing the same masks all day. She explained that during her job before the pandemic, she was required to change her mask after exiting a patient’s room, noting the patient never was required to wear a mask.

“It wasn’t sanitary. And if it was, you know, the hospital would have had us reuse them to save money,” Keith said.

Adam Mikolajczyk of Claysburg blamed Gov. Tom Wolf for the contention. He said he respects the board, as they are members of the community, but said they needed to take action because the problem won’t go away.

“If we don’t stop this here, we will be back here in a few months talking about forced injections,” he said.

Two students, a junior and seventh grader, shared their experiences with wearing masks at school, noting headaches, lightheadedness and difficulty breathing.

Board President Richard Gergely thanked everyone for attending the meeting and sharing their feelings on the masking issue. After the meeting, he said it was great to see and hear the community members.

“I think it was wonderful to hear both sides of the mask mandate issue and concern that is in front of every school district in the state of Pennsylvania. We understand their frustrations,” Gergely said. “It’s sad that the state has put this upon the school districts to try to come to a solution when our state Legislature should be the ones fighting on our behalf. It puts our school board in a tough situation where we have half the community wanting one thing and half the community wanting the other.”

In other agenda items, the board approved grants and donations, including a new John Deere Gator from Zeigler Chevrolet in Claysburg. Members tabled a discussion for a volunteer service credit resolution and approved various position resignations and hirings.

Officials also said there will be a homecoming dance, with plans to host the event in the parking lot in tents outside the gymnasium.

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