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Hollidaysburg: District OKs form for mask exemption

Most in orderly crowd spoke against requiring students to wear face covering

The Hollidaysburg Area School Board approved a form to request a student be exempted from wearing a mask on Wednesday.

The district will continue to use the form, which was implemented Tuesday.

So far, according to Superintendent Robert Gildea, 13% of students have submitted the form for medical exemption.

Votes in favor of approving the form were from Rick Gallagher, Nicole Hartman, Melissa Mitchell, Manny Nichols and Ken Snyder. Votes against were from Board President Ron Sommer, Lonna Frye and Doug Stephens. Board Vice President Scott Brenneman was absent.

Despite police being on hand in anticipation of a large and possibly contentious crowd, attendees were mostly well-mannered.

Public comment was civil during its roughly 45-minute entirety.

Most residents spoke in favor of the exemption form and against requiring masks, including Steve Link, who opposes Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent K-12 mask mandate.

“It’s only the beginning of a slippery slope,” Link said. “Parents will lose parental rights to make critical medical decisions for their own children. Please remember, this (exemption form) might be a chance to stop masks from being forced on children.”

Andrew Wedel said masking should be a personal choice.

“Everybody is responsible for themselves,” Wedel said. “Avoiding non-risk is not possible. COVID-19 is going to be with us indefinitely, maybe forever. Please vote to accept the waiver form as it’s presented.”

While most residents expressed an anti-mask sentiment, Rick and Sheryl Imler backed face coverings in their comments.

Masks, Sheryl said, are a “small sacrifice.” She added she is “disturbed by the number of people willing to falsify a form.”

“Base your decisions on science,” Rick said. “We have the means of preventing deaths. Why wouldn’t we act accordingly to do that?”

Tensions rose when Stephens spoke before the roll call vote.

“I want you to understand why I’m going to vote no for the consent form tonight,” Stephens said. “What it boils down (to) for me, and I’m speaking to you now more as a parent than a board member; it’s about the lesson and example that we are showing our kids.”

A handful of residents yelled back, but the disruption was ephemeral as Gildea asked everyone in the room to restore order.

Mitchell, too, addressed the audience.

“I’m going to speak to you from the heart,” she said. “Never in my life did I ever think I would have to sit here and fight so hard for the right for a parent to do what they thought was best for their child. I understand how political this might seem. I need you to pay attention because it was really, really close that your rights could have been taken away, and the rights of parents are being taken away all over our state. I don’t think it’s right, and I’m speaking to you as a mother.”

After the meeting, Gildea reacted to the board’s decision.

“My only goal in this, from the time that COVID-19 started, was to keep kids healthy and to keep kids in school,” he said. “If the plan that is in place accomplishes that, then I support it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Andrew Mollenauer is at 814-946-7428.

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