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Tyrone school board limits comment

Parents were allowed to speak for five minutes each during a 20-minute period

TYRONE — Some members of the public left disappointed following Tyrone Area School Board’s meeting on Tuesday after board officials enforced a 20-minute public comment policy.

Board Vice President William Lash requested that the policy of holding a maximum of 20 minutes of public comment be followed. As noted on the public agenda, which was available next to the sign-in sheet, speakers must identify themselves and are limited to 5 minutes.

About 60 people attended the meeting, some with and others without masks, with four people taking the podium during the allotted public comment period.

The speakers shared a sentiment of displeasure with the masking mandate and the school board’s actions.

Derek Price, a parent of two elementary schoolchildren, said America is changing and the parents are choosing to stand up. He condemned the threats and acts of violence against school boards, saying he stood with the board in defense of each member.

“We can agree, we can disagree and argue about policy and still remain neighborly,” Price said. “But that is a two-way road.”

Price called for each board member to publicly declare their positions through letters to the editor, including their membership status of the National School Boards Association.

Justine Crilly, who said she was a frequent speaker at the meetings, explained her frustrations with the finger pointing between school boards and state leadership.

Crilly said she has emailed Gov. Tom Wolf and received an “auto-generated response” that did not address her concerns. She said she called Wolf’s office, only to be put on hold for 20 minutes before being disconnected.

Crilly also said she reached out to Sen. Judy Ward’s office where she was told that the governor was not taking calls from parents and that he has vetoed bills Ward and other legislators placed before him. Crilly said Ward’s office told her that many districts are giving parents the choice to mask or quarantine over the governor’s mandate.

“Many of you have stated privately or publicly that you don’t necessarily agree with the rules, but you feel threatened by the governor,” she said. “At what point will you put your fears aside and stand up for the betterment of this community and this school?”

The next speaker, Tracey Stroup, referred to a handout next to the sign-in sheet from the Beard Legal Group. The “Educational Law Report” detailed federal district court rulings on the state’s masking order.

Stroup called the handout “a loss for our justice,” adding that the need to “deeply prove” religious exemptions is “silly.” She also said she’s contacted the Blair County sheriff and said the office is drafting a letter to county school districts saying the mask mandate is unconstitutional.

The board ended the public comment period and approved all measures including financial reports, expenditures, hirings and resignations. Just before the close of the meeting, members of the public asked for an additional public comment period. Most, if not all, of the crowd remained, and only four were able to speak in the previous allotted time. Members of the crowd cited that they were all taxpayers and deserved their opportunity to be heard.

Board members said it was the policy and they would be making an effort to follow it. Price said that he had attended all of the meetings regarding masking and that such a policy was never enforced, while others said this was a new policy.

Superintendent Leslie Estep said the policy had not changed, although there was “rewording” that did not change the meaning.

Lash explained that he asked for the change, noting the board had deviated from the policy so it could hear everyone in the community. Lash said the board stuck to the policy at Tuesday’s meeting because the public comment was the same issues coming up repeatedly.

“So everything we’re saying doesn’t even matter,” one attendee said.

Lash added that the debate is at the state level, to which many members of the crowd disagreed.

The meeting adjourned at about 7:35 p.m. for the board to go into executive session, although half of the public in attendance did not get up to leave. Murmurings throughout the crowd were to the sentiment of “if we don’t leave, they can’t finish their meeting.”

The board exited to another room for executive session a few minutes later.

Mirror Staff Writer Hannah Pollock can be reached at 814-946-7520.

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