On Tuesday night, the Tyrone Area School Board had a heated working session that resulted in a vote to write an emergency medical exemption form for kids wearing masks. 

Approximately 150 individuals attended the public session at Tyrone Area High School auditorium in the hopes of hearing a vote on Gov. Tom Wolf’s recently announced mask mandate. A vote is not normally permitted because the board was in a working session rather than a public meeting. 

During the public discussion at the start of the meeting, disgruntled parents and others of the community expressed their displeasure with the school’s amended policy on COVID-19 and quarantining. 

Keith Deal, the pastor of Community Worship Center in Tyrone, urged the school board to defy the requirement and act as community representatives. 

We need you guys — the school board and the school administrators — to lead and stop following. That’s the point,” he said. “You gotta have a choice here: whether or not to put the mask on our kids. It’s just that simple. If people want to wear it, praise God. But if not, praise God.” 

Russ Walk, son of board member Lori Walk, said that he has and will continue to send his kids to school without masks. “I’m having my kids come here tomorrow — four of them — and they won’t have their masks on,” he said. “What are you going to do about it?” 

Parents gathered one after the other to express their opinions, which lasted over three hours. From the start of the session, the established five-minute time limit for each speaker was ignored, and each participant was permitted to talk for as long as they wanted, with one person speaking for just over 15 minutes. 

Superintendent Leslie Estep was a constant target of audience anger. “I’m saying Leslie told you how to vote,” Russ Walk said. “You know how you have to vote. We know who is for us and who is against us.” 

Once everyone had spoken, Lori Walk voiced her opinion. “I firmly believe as an educator, as a Christian, that it is your right to choose,” she said. “I do not want to take your authority as a parent. I want to give you that authority back.” 

This prompted demands from the audience that the board holds an immediate vote on a medical or emotional exemption form for the next day. “We’re never going to stop. You’re going to see us every day,” one person shouted from the audience. 

According to Estep, due to board restrictions, the board was unable to hold a vote during the meeting. Members of the audience got increasingly obnoxious and refused to allow her to speak effectively. They eventually realized they wouldn’t get a definitive response at the meeting and began slowly trickling out of the auditorium, yelling back at the stage. 

With the majority of the auditorium now vacant, Estep asked the board what they should do for today when pupils return to school in the same circumstances. She stated that her primary concern was for the students and staff if parents followed through on their threats to visit the school. 

To pacify the crowd, the majority of the board members agreed that an exemption form similar to those used by other school systems would be the best option. 

High school principal Thomas Yoder outlined the complexities of an exemption form, stating that it would be impossible to distinguish between students who had handed in the form and those who did not wear a mask. He asked the board what the employees and teachers should do in such a case. 

The board agreed that, for the time being, there was no need to divide pupils based on exemption status to make the process easier for teachers. 

After nearly an hour of going around in circles, the board ordered Estep to develop a modified version of a form that was already under review to distribute and notify parents before the start of school today. Estep said she would send a robocall to all parents in the district to inform them of the form and attempt to prevent protests outside the school. 

Source:  Altoona Mirror