School Board Meeting Ends In Vote to Eliminate Masking, Contact Tracing
February 24, 2022
In a four-hour marathon meeting, the Hollidaysburg Area School District Board of Directors decided to end all masking in the district and contact tracing, effective Wednesday, Feb. 23.
The motion to eliminate masking and contact tracing was made by Boardmember Manny Nichols. The 5-4 resulting vote had Nichols, Jennifer Costanza, Ken Snyder, President Nicole Hartman, and Carmen Bilek voting in favor and Lonna Frye, Scott Brenneman, Ronald Sommer and Doug Stephens voting against the motion.
After a lengthy meeting, the agenda came to the February Health and Safety Plan update, which Superintendent Dr. Robert Gildea stated was on the agenda every month merely for discussion reasons, not for voting on new updates to the plan. Boardmember Bilek made a statement about elimination of masking and contact tracing. She noted that schools do not have the resources to do contact tracing at this point. It involves numerous hours and many people. Bilek said that masking and contact tracing disrupt lives.
“Step up and move forward,” Bilek said. “We are confining ourselves because of a virus that is going to be here for a long time. When people are fearful, they stop thinking rationally. That’s where we are today. We have to ask ourselves what is holding us back from making the decision to move forward.”
Bilek wanted to make a motion to remove masks and stop contact tracing, but Solicitor Carl Beard reminded the board that they would have to amend the agenda first to make such a motion. There was some concern expressed by Nichols that there be a two-week window to prepare teachers for no masks or contact tracing. When the agenda was amended, Bilik made a motion to end both contact tracing and masking immediately. It was defeated by a 5-4 vote.
Numbers of COVID in the district are creeping down, as two weeks ago there were 83 cases in the school district and 61 cases this past week in the schools. Twenty-two percent of the students have experienced contact tracing at some point. Numbers show 2 to 3 percent of the population is COVID positive. Nichols also said the two-week wait to eliminate contact tracing would allow the school and board to see where the numbers of COVID cases go, whether they continue to drop or begin to spike.
Hartman expressed concern that if a child is sitting next to a fellow student who tests COVID positive, there would be no call to his/her parent to inform them that the student had been directly exposed. They would have no idea of child’s exposure. Even if a child is asymptomatic, other members of the family could be exposed to the virus.
During the public comment section, one individual stated that Northern Bedford School District had not used masking or contact tracing since the inception of the school year, and there had been no negative news that they experienced difficulty with this policy.
The board finally voted 6-3 to amend the agenda to eliminate all masking immediately and in 14 days, eliminate contact tracing. The board then took a vote that ended the masking immediately and contact tracing in 14 days.
The committee of the whole/voting meeting for the Hollidaysburg Area School District Board of Directors for March has been scheduled for Wednesday, March 16, at 7 p.m. at the high school library.