Editor’s note: The president of the Delaware Valley teacher’s union prepared the following statement to read at Tuesday’s school board meeting:
I would like for you to remember two dates — September 10, 2021, and September 16, 2021. While seemingly arbitrary dates, both will become pertinent in a moment. I come here today as a member of two communities that have a stake in what will be decided here, and while I certainly have an opinion about this situation, I would rather spend the time I have here addressing the facts.
Fact 1: On August 31, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam signed into effect the current school mask mandate. She did so by the Powers enumerated to her by the PA Constitution and the 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Law.
Fact 2: Title 22 Chapter 1 of PA Code grants the PA Department of Education and the Secretary of Education the ability to issue rules and directives.
Fact 3: On September 3, 2021, PDE clarified the rules and directives related to the implementation of the mask order in schools. They said, “school entities should follow their established processes for determining student eligibility under those laws (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or IDEA), including any medical documentation that they would normally require.”
On this date, PDE also clarified the consequences of failing to comply with and enforce the order. School officials may lose sovereign immunity, face personal lawsuits, and any penalty listed in the Disease Prevention Act.
Fact 4: On September 8, 2021, the Secretary of Education issued a letter to the Tamaqua Area School District (which they stated was applicable to all schools found to be violating the mask order) and stated that, “a knowing violation may be used by a plaintiff to establish personal liability in a negligence action”, that, “districts that do not comply with or affirmatively elect to violate the law may be referred to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for investigation”, and reiterated what PDE clarified on September 3, 2021.
Fact 5: On September 10, 2021, every school district in PA received a letter to their chief school administrator. This letter stated, “This Order is not a mask optional policy. Any school entity simply permitting a parent’s sign-off without evidence that the student has a medical or mental health condition or disability that precludes the wearing of a face covering is not in compliance with the Order.”
Fact 6: On September 16, 2021, the attorneys whom the Delaware Valley School District employs from two different law firms and whom specialize in educational law advised the district to follow PDE’s clarification, issued a warning that board members and administrators who violate the order may face claims of willful misconduct, may be held personally liable and exempted from coverage under the school’s liability insurance, and jeopardize the licenses of administrators, teachers, and anyone licensed through the state. The lawyers further advised that if medical documentation was required for 504’s in the past, then medical documentation should be required again. The board indicated that they had received contradictory information from a different lawyer through community members. Eric Winter from the Prince law firm was this lawyer. Erik who does not specialize in education law, but rather gun law, criminal law, divorce, immigration, DUI, Worker’s Compensation, and Estate law.
Fact 7: The Tamaqua Area School District reversed their non-compliance on September 22, 2021.
Now that we have reviewed the facts up to this point, and all board members have been made fully aware and you still knowingly violated the mandate. I would like to highlight a few points.
As school board members you took an oath of office to, “support, obey, and defend...the Constitution of this Commonwealth” not just the parts you like or believe in. Voting to violate the mandate is a violation of that oath. As school board members, you are meant to exemplify the model citizens that these students should become. If you don’t like a law, you don’t just violate it. You do your civic duty and follow the process of speaking with your representatives, senators, governor, and secretaries. What you are potentially doing here today, is teaching our children that if we don’t like a law, you just don’t have to follow it. This is analogous to saying I don’t want to pay that price, so I’ll just take the item...it’s not stealing because I don’t believe in that law. That’s not the right way and you know it. Our personal opinions do not matter in this situation. Our political affiliations or political aspiration do not matter in this situation. Our jobs as members of an educational institution are to follow the mandate in the way it is set out by PDE as is their right under the state’s constitution and PA Code.
You choose to violate this mandate and if any teacher should fall ill as a result I will hold each person who votes that way personally responsible. And when that time comes, I will reference this meeting, and this moment. I will refence September 10, September 16, and September 28 when you were fully made aware of the requirements and the consequences.
You had the unique opportunity to make the right choice while having all of the consequences of the wrong choice outlined for you. I implore you to undo this violation the mandate and risk the clear and obvious consequences both in regard to the wellbeing of our community members and the potential legal ramifications.
Kayla Troast, President
Delaware Valley Teachers Association