Pottsgrove Schools to Require COVID Masks for Month

Pottsgrove Superintendent Dr. David Finnerty (at top left) and school board President Robert Lindgren, as the board opened its Tuesday meeting

LOWER POTTSGROVE PA – Protective mask-wearing will be required of all kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the Pottsgrove School District for a 30-day period between the first day of classes, Aug. 30 (2021) and Sept. 28, the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors decided during its Tuesday (Aug. 24) meeting.

Its 6-1 vote modifies the district’s current health and safety plan, which received initial board approval just 14 days earlier. At that time the plan simply recommended, but did not demand, what is known as “universal masking” for anyone inside school buildings. With the revision, the option for parents to send their children to schools without masks becomes, at least temporarily, unavailable.

The COVID-19 landscape also has changed since the board’s Aug. 10 plan approval, however.

Locally, the district’s 14-day positivity rate – considered one measure of infection risk -rose from 0.4 percent on July 1 to 5.1 percent on Aug. 19, according to Montgomery County data. The trend is more severe in the three municipalities the district serves, it also shows. Fourteen-day positivity for the same period rose in Upper Pottsgrove Township from zero to 6.75 percent; in West Pottsgrove, from 2.08 to 6.25 percent; and in Lower Pottsgrove from 3.45 to 3.79 percent.

Nationally, estimates indicate roughly 30 percent of the public remains unvaccinated against the coronavirus. The highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant has become the virus’ dominant form. There are reports of statistically small (one-tenth of 1 percent) “breakthrough” infections among fully vaccinated persons who were thought to be immune. More children are being hospitalized with infections.

The district aims to ensure its students receive 180 days of in-person education during the academic year, Superintendent Dr. David Finnerty told board members. To make that goal, board President Robert Lindgren suggested the changed plan “is the best thing we can do; the best way to get us to a month in school.” The board pledged to re-examine the policy by its Sept. 28 board meeting.

Board member Tina McIntyre cast the sole opposing vote. Board members Al Leach and Bill Parker were absent and did not vote.

What remains unaltered in the plan is how the district intends to deal with parents who oppose masking, or whose students must be quarantined due to virus infection or exposure.

Remotely accessed live-streamed education is no longer offered, as it was last year. The plan states the district will provide “a virtual option” if a family requests it, but only though third-party providers that would not rely on Pottsgrove teachers. In quarantine cases, lessons would be assigned off-line.

The board session was broadcast live on YouTube to what host PCTV said was slightly more than 300 viewers, but none of them had the ability to comment or ask questions. Among audience members at the in-person meeting, approval to require masking drew mixed reactions.

Mask opponent Katie Coppa of Upper Pottsgrove argued parents should be given a choice in determining whether their children should be masked. She claimed children wore masks when asked to do so primarily because “they don’t want to get into trouble.”

Biotech worker Christina Fisher of Upper Pottsgrove said she believed mask-wearing would help her children “thrive in a classroom.” She asked board members to require, rather than recommend, masking as a way “to keep students in school.”

Nurse Brittany Bradley expressed concern that masks limited emotional growth in children. She said her Pottsgrove student, who benefits from speech therapy, can’t see people form words when their faces are covered. “Parents need to be able to make decisions for their own child,” she said.

The husband of a teacher at Lower Pottsgrove said they “applaud the board’s decision.”

Photo by The Posts