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Tyrone Board hears more on masks

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited from the original to put into the proper context quotes from one of the speakers.

By Andrew Mollenauer

amollenauer@altoonamirror.com

TYRONE — Residents pushed for a religious exemption for masks during more than two hours of public comment at Tyrone Area School Board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

More than a dozen people addressed the board, nearly all of them expressing an anti-mask sentiment.

Clay O’Shell asked the board directly to provide students the opportunity for religious exemption.

“We will keep showing up and fighting for our kids,” O’Shell said. “I will not comply with the mandate or whatever tyrannical buzzword. It’s indoctrination and propaganda. We don’t stand for that, nor will it be accepted by the people of Tyrone.”

O’Shell then recited James 4:17 from the Bible before making a final comment, “I pray for wisdom upon the school board members.”

Chris Maroney also slammed masking, calling it “political theater.”

“Our response to the virus has exacerbated the trauma of young people,” Maroney said. “Masking is causing carnage, damage and pain.”

Maroney implored the board to “be brave and do something,” and called for a religious exemption, which he said “needs to be in place.”

Jessica Walk said she believes masks are ineffective, but more than that, she feels they can lead to segregation, discrimination and, in some instances, bullying, particularly as Tyrone’s policy requires a medical exemption to attend school without a mask.

Walk sent an email to the school board and administrators and read her letter aloud for all in attendance at the meeting.

She has a daughter with disabilities who qualifies for an exemption, Walk said, adding that if only children with “disabilities” are not wearing a mask, that sets those children apart, creating segregation.

“Masks do make my daughter anxious,” she said, noting that masks are also a distraction for her daughter.

“She already struggles very much to learn. She will not be wearing a mask to school this year,” she said in her remarks to the board.

“I sure hope you take everything into consideration when voting,” she said, in reference to her letter to the board and her follow-up comments.

Steve Jolley encouraged the board to see the issue from the perspective of faith.

“When you put God first, the decision you make will be easier,” Jolley said. “You do have a hard decision. Get back with God and you guys become the heroes.”

Sherry Harrison, a substitute teacher, was the only person who expressed support for masks.

“COVID-19 is not going away unless we do something,” Harrison said. “If we don’t mask, we’ll be back to virtual. All of us have the right to live and masking does help.”

Harrison begged the board to “be strong up there” and said she knows many of the board members are Christians.

“You guys all know what’s right,” Harrison said. “Be brave; you can do it.”

The board ultimately didn’t take action on the matter, but it approved various resignations and hirings of new employees.

Before the meeting was adjourned, board member Lori Walk addressed the audience.

“I am passionate about the children of our community and will continue to be passionate about the children of our community,” Walk said. “I do stand for the parents’ right to choice and I definitely stand for the religious right to choose. I know that we can’t bring that to a vote here because that’s not part of the agenda, but I encourage you as parents to stand up for your children and to seek a religious exemption even though we’re being told that’s not possible. With God, all things are possible.”

Walk’s words were met with loud applause.

After the meeting, Superintendent Leslie Estep reacted to the public’s push for religious exemption. She said “a number of students” have already submitted forms for medical exemption.

“I appreciate their passion and I appreciate them wanting that religious exemption, but the school board is not in a position to grant that,” Estep said. “That has to become part of the order from the Department of Health. That just isn’t something the school board is in a position to grant.”

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

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