Radnor Township School District votes to make masks optional, other districts switching plans too

"It's time we stop the madness," one Radnor parent said.
WAYNE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A Main Line school board meeting went on for hours Tuesday night with debate over its mask mandate for staff and students as districts across the area contemplate changes.

The Radnor School Board ultimately voted unanimously to make face coverings optional starting Thursday after hearing comments from parents and students.

"It's time we stop the madness," one Radnor Township School District parent said. "We admit that we were wrong, we admit our mistakes and we let the kids breathe freely, finally, as they deserve."

"We as parents and guardians of these incredible children want a choice and we aren't going away. We know our rights. We have the resources to protect our children," another parent said.

"I am in my junior year of high school and I have yet to have a normal year in high school because the adults in this room refuse the free the children," a student said.

The decision came after Superintendent Ken Batchelor sent a letter to the community recommending the change based off a five-week decline in positive cases and hospitalizations.

District officials will now continue to monitor numbers at each school, making sure positive cases are less than 2.5 percent of the school's population.

The Upper Darby School District is also moving forward with a new plan.

The administration is still recommending masks for students and staff, but they are no longer requiring anyone to wear them.

"Keeping a mask forever I don't think was everybody's intention and that's why we feel like we're moving in a good place," Superintendent Dr. Daniel McGarry told Action News.

Officials say the decision was made based on trends in data and guidance from medical professionals.

The Upper Darby mask optional policy will go into effect on Monday, March 7.

RELATED: Upper Darby School District to recommend - not require - masking of students and staff

But some rules, like masking for a student who tests positive for COVID will remain in place.

"It's not like we're just going willy-nilly and saying it's do whatever you want to do. We are still following some of the processes and procedures that are in place," McGarry said.

Dr. John Toleno, Superintendent of the Upper Merion Area School District, said he is recommending to the School Board that the district moves to make masking optional for students and students beginning March 7.

A school board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 28.

"As of late, local conditions continue to improve and the parameters regarding COVID-19 have changed significantly since the school year began," Toleno said in a message on Tuesday.

Tolen said he will be asking the School Board to adjust the Health and Safety plan to include the following: "UMASD will maintain a masking optional plan until or unless we reach more than 3% positive cases in any school building and at such time the District will move back to a mandatory masking policy."

In Philadelphia, more than 85% of teachers are vaccinated and COVID cases are down 54% in the last two weeks, but the mask mandate isn't going anywhere just yet.

"Those numbers are going down and we're seeing that people are not getting as sick as they were getting, but of course that's been because we've had very efficient health and safety protocols in place, among them wearing masks," said Monica Lewis, deputy chief of communications for the School District of Philadelphia.

Recently, Philadelphia schools took things a step further and enhanced their mask requirement.

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Camden City Schools are keeping their mask requirement in effect for now. However, neighboring Cherry Hill Public Schools will switch to optional masking.

"We did change our policy a little bit to make mandatory for individual students to wear a disposable mask, 3-ply mask and no longer just a cloth mask on its own," said Lewis.

In Gloucester County, New Jersey, Washington Township Public Schools will follow suit on Governor Phil Murphy's decision to end school masks mandates starting March 7.

"The (Washington Township Pandemic Response Health and Safety Team) unanimously has recommended that, due to the dramatic decrease in Covid cases in Gloucester County and in our schools and due to the implementation of the test-to-stay program that offers free testing to our community seven days a week, the Washington Township School District will be mask optional beginning Monday, March 7, 2022, in all District buildings," a letter from Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf said.

Bollendorf said the district picked up a free shipment of 10,000 KN95 masks that will be made available, while supplies last, to staff and students who want to continue to mask.

"We have all looked forward to positive changes as we have navigated through this pandemic over the last two years. We deeply appreciate the patience and support you have shown during this most challenging time," Bollendorf said in his letter.

MaryAnn Carfagno, a parent in Washington Township, is ready for the switch.

"It's been two years where kids haven't seen a smile, my kid can't understand the teacher," said Carfagno. "It's a personal choice. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask."

Masks will still be required on school buses and district vehicles per a federal mandate.
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