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Tamaqua’s mask policy satisfies parents’ wishes

There was no talk of student masking policies at Tuesday night’s Tamaqua school board committee meeting.

Three weeks ago, a motion was passed to comply with the Wolf administration’s latest K-12 mask mandate.

However, the district made “mask exception” forms available for students, who wished to not wear one. Forms were due back to the district by Oct. 4, and a doctor’s signature was not required. Now, masking is “mandatory” unless an exception form is filled out.

Following this week’s committee meeting, superintendent Ray Kinder said he is letting the building principals manage the exception forms that parents or guardian are signing off on.

“I would like to keep some praise on our building principals,” Kinder said “I think they have done a great job of trying to manage all of the exception forms that have come in and communicate with students, as well as parents, to make sure that we are doing the right thing and following our procedures.”

Dr. Greg Koons, Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29 Executive Director, who meets with Schuylkill County superintendents regularly to help navigate the pandemic, believes Pennsylvania schools should comply with masking.

“Yes, I am fully in support of it because it’s a mandate,” Koons said during an interview last month.

“It’s coming from the department of health for the health and safety of our students, so we must support it and enforce it. That’s really my stance on it, coming from my position.”

Secretary of Education Noe Ortega called out Tamaqua last month in a letter to the district, before it decided to comply, warning them of potential consequences.

However, there has been no recent public developments or communication between both parties since the “mask exception” forms were made available to students earlier in October.

Neighboring Blue Mountain School District offered a similar mask waiver form for its students last month after an 8-1 vote was passed.

As of Thursday, since the final week of September, Tamaqua has reported 14 positive COVID-19 cases. In comparison, during the same timeline, Panther Valley has reported 31, Lehighton 28 and Jim Thorpe 23.

According to the most recent Pa. Department of Health data, Carbon County ranks 13th in 7-day average new case rate, while Schuylkill is 42nd. But in new case rate, however, Carbon ranks second across the entire commonwealth.

As of Oct. 8, the DOH reported eight deaths of children aged 0-18 in Pennsylvania.