The North Penn School Board voted Thursday to require masks for indoors at its 13 elementary schools under all COVID-19 transmission levels, defined by the Montgomery County Department of Health as low, moderate, substantial and high. Masks are optional for outdoors unless there is a high transmission level.
For secondary schools in the district, masks are optional when the transmission level is low or moderate. That could potentially turn into a mandate as well, if COVID cases remain at the substantial transmission rate in the community or climb to high level of spread. Masks for secondary schools are optional for outdoors unless there is a high transmission level.
"Regards to the mask, which is the clear issue of the night, the plan is to mandate for the elementary schools, and to continue to peg the option to mask to community transmission rates to secondary (schools)," Christian Fuscom, Vice-President of the North Penn School Board, said.
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North Penn is the largest public school district in Montgomery County, comprising about 13,000 students, 2,000 staff members and 20 individual facilities.
The meeting allowed comments from the public, who were both in favor and against masks in schools.
One speaker who was in favor of keeping masks optional said it should be the parents making the decision for their children, not the school board.
"I don't believe parents on either side of this issue are bad or selfish. We are all trying to do what we believe is best for our children," the speaker said.
Another speaker, in favor of a mask mandate, said the district should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance, recommending universal masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.
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"The primary objective bringing us all here tonight is consistent and sustainable in-person education for our children. At this time, the best way to achieve that is through a mask requirement," the speaker said.
Speakers throughout the night on both sides of the issue received cheers from those attending the meeting.
The Montgomery Department of Public Health said it follows the CDC's guidance in recommending masks at all K-12 schools.
"In alignment with CDC, MCOPH recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status or school district level of community transmission," the Montgomery County Office of Public Health Recommendation for COVID-19 Prevention for K to 12 Schools 2021-2022 School Year said.
In Bucks County, the Pennsbury School Board also met Thursday night. They finalized safety plans for the upcoming school year, including mask guidance.
The board voted to make masks mandatory for all staff and students, Pre-K through 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status as the county is in a high level of transmission, per their health department guidelines. Masks are optional for outdoors.
Pennsbury's plan calls for masks to be recommended indoors at schools when the area is in low and moderate levels, and mandatory in the substantial level.
Earlier this week, the Bucks County Health Department revised its guidance and said it is following the CDC's recommendation for masking of all students.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has said he is not considering mandating masks in schools. However, his administration recommends schools follow federal guidance on mask-wearing.
Pennsylvania will offer voluntary COVID-19 testing in all K-12 schools, state officials announced on Monday. School districts will have to opt-in, and parents must give consent.
In Philadelphia, Superintendent Dr. William Hite announced in June that masks will be required in all public schools for the upcoming school year.
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy announced everyone in K-12 schools will have to wear masks this fall, regardless of vaccination status.
Delaware Governor John Carney also announced a similar mask requirement for schools in the First State.