MASTRIANO OP-ED: The Governor’s Mask Confusion Threatens Schools

What happened to local control with the state’s 500 school districts?

The latest flawed edict issued forth from the ivory tower enclave of Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary Levine mandates that the healthiest in our population must wear masks if schools reopen.

Thus, at the stroke of a pen, the Governor has vanquished local oversight of coronavirus mitigation efforts and placed it under the dubious purview of the state Department of Education.

The latest edict demands making masks mandatory at all schools (and everyone in them), public and private, and the burgeoning bureaucracy of the Education Department will oversee the order…not local school boards, superintendents, administrators, principals or teachers.

With the multi-dimensional complexities in our state’s education system, it is common sense to allow local school districts the authority to implement mask policies, if and when local leaders deem appropriate, not faceless bureaucrats.

School boards should make those decisions; not unelected bureaucrats in Harrisburg.

State bureaucrats believe local school boards are responsible enough for setting their own tax rates, but they don’t trust them when implementing their own mask guidelines?

School districts in the 33rd Senate District are vastly different than those in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Erie, Reading and Wilkes-Barre. Public health conditions also differ based on community, therefore, mask requirements should be tailored for each setting, taking into account the needs of students and their families. This is yet another failed one-size-fits-all approach.

School boards should make those decisions; not unelected bureaucrats in Harrisburg.

Recent memorandums and guidelines issued by PA Education Department Secretary Pedro Rivera indicated that local school districts were entrusted with making safe and prudent decisions specific to their local communities.

This directive changed over the last two weeks, but that’s par for the course in this ever-changing dithering by the Governor and Health Secretary.

School boards should make those decisions; not unelected bureaucrats in Harrisburg.

The recent mandate is fraught with uncertainties and unanswered questions, such as:

Are children expected to wear masks of any kind for the entire duration of the school day?

How and when will rules be enforced? Who will enforce the rules? What are the penalties for not following the rules? Will the Secretary’s edicts result in shaming and bullying, as already witnessed in grocery stores?

Why is state language regarding student “exceptions” so hazy, and how does this align with the Governor and Secretary’s call for the citizens of Pennsylvania to make non-mask wearers “socially unacceptable?”

Does this mean after years of anti-bullying programs, we’re going to have our children snitch on students who cannot wear a mask?

How will this unenforceable edict impact school buses? Seats are designed for two students. A reasonable person would ascertain that traditional student seating is no longer practical with social distancing and mask requirements in place. Will schools be required to double or even triple their bus runs? Who will subsidize that unfunded mandate? And by the way, the majority of school buses are not air conditioned. What about the potential hazards for a driver, such as fainting?

Based on calls and emails I’ve been receiving from constituents, parents are pulling their kids out of traditional schools and going the homeschooling route, or exploring cyber school options. As a result, school districts will lose valuable funding, and may have to eliminate programming and faculty.

What about students with special needs, such as autism (many of whom have sensory issues), intellectual disabilities, seizure disorders or physical handicaps? Are they required to wear masks all day too?

There is a dehumanization in social-distancing and mask-wearing. Isn’t it necessary for our children, especially five-year old Kindergarten students, to socialize and learn early reading skills by watching the pronunciation of words by an unmasked teacher?

What happens if they soil the mask? What happens if a Kindergarten student loses their mask on the playground? Where will the pupil obtain a replacement? Who will pay for it? Perhaps personal protection equipment will be the latest unfunded mandate handed down by the Wolf administration, not the General Assembly.

School boards should make those decisions; not unelected bureaucrats in Harrisburg.

What’s next?

How will the Wolf administration compensate additional teachers that must be hired to ensure six-foot social distancing metrics in classrooms? How will faculty simultaneously teach students face-to-face as well as synchronously to those students at home, due to illness or quarantine? Where is the funding for the technology to accomplish this endeavor? Again, another unfunded mandate by the Wolf administration, not the General Assembly.

Many school boards throughout the state were already in the process of adopting their own reopening plan, with strict and specific health and safety guidelines in place.

Now, as a result of the administration’s misguided mandate, schools must update and/or amend their Health and Safety Plans and submit them to the Education Department after their next board meeting, and plans must be flexible enough to accommodate further changes.

The Wolf administration’s announcement – necessitating that all students and school employees wear masks – severely decimated morale across the state, and set the wheels in motion for a mass exodus from traditional education.

Parents are outraged, and see this more about forcing control on students, with little regard for safe and scientific measures to protect them.

Additionally, the Wolf administration’s policies have become obsessively focused on mask-wearing as the panacea of COVID concerns, while the Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Fauci say it is not.

The latest edict from our increasingly autocratic Governor and his failed Health Secretary must be overturned and cast aside. It is out of touch with reality, and void of science and common sense. To use the power of the Governor’s seat to coerce the healthiest part of our population is nothing more than unnecessary nonsense that threatens the health and well-being of our children.

COVID tends to attack the elderly and sick, not the young and the healthy. We know this as 70 percent of all deaths in our state are as a result of our failed Secretary of Health’s irresponsible policy directing that elder facilities take in COVID positive patients, which unleashed the plague there.

This is why I demand the resignation of Secretary Levine, and this latest edict from that office is further demonstration that we are being led and controlled by someone who is out of their depth and league.

Sadly, the ramification of these heartless and unscientific edicts by our failed Secretary may well result in more death. This administration is blinded by partisan politics and cannot see the damage they have done and continue to do to our people.

I take this attack upon our youth personally and all upon all Pennsylvanians to push back against these ridiculous edicts that are dangerous and reckless.

Governor Wolf, Secretary Levine and Secretary Rivera must reconsider their flawed mask mandate.

Local communities and our kids deserve better. 

Senator Mastriano represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The District includes Adams County and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.

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