VALLEY – On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf’s mask mandate for Pennsylvania schools took effect, with both Athens and Sayre school boards discussing the topic during their meetings last night.

Sayre resident Amanda Firestine addressed the Sayre board regarding the mask mandate for schools.

“Since the pandemic began, my son has had a hard time adjusting to school,” said Firestine. “A child who once loved going to school has had countless breakdowns and anxiety with the mandates.”

She then read a letter composed by her son, asking for the cloth to be taken “off our faces.” Firestine cited an article released by the University of Southern California that states “masking of children is disruptive to learning and communication” as well as “delays the recognition of positive emotions and enforces negative emotions.”

Firestine expressed concern regarding the affect mask mandates have on anxiety and depression rates in children, which she said “are already at pandemic levels.”

She noted that the CDC estimates that “survival rate for children is 99.99 percent,” and she believes the masks and other COVID-19 policies are doing more harm than good.

“Since March 2020 our children’s education has been shattered due to fear,” said Firestine. “Interactions with their peers has been limited, they have been forced to spend many days in virtual classrooms (and) virtual programs which were not conducive to learning.”

Firestone went on to cite Pennsylvania law which, by her interpretations, makes mask mandates in school a form of child abuse.

“Pennsylvania law states that causing or contributing to mental injury, as well as engaging in the interference of the breathing of a child is child abuse,” Firestine said.

And she went on to explain why she believes the sates mandate is in violation of the constitution.

“According to the Regulatory Review Act of Pennsylvania, the Secretary of Health has no authority to issue regulations without approval from the general assembly unless we are in a state of emergency,” said Firestine, “which was terminated in June, making this mandate illegal.”

Firestine closed by asking the Sayre board to file an injunction to “stop the suppression of our children’s physical, mental, and developmental health.”

In his report, Sayre board president Pete Quattrini addressed the subject of masks.

“We have been in numerous conversations with our legal team and they’ve advised us to follow (the mandate),” said Quattrini. “We’re going to do our due diligence to do so.”

Quattrini indicated that discussions will continue with the district’s legal team.

Sayre Superintendent Dr. Jill Daloisio used her report as a time to answer some questions that she received via email.

She explained that the live virtual instruction option that was in place for Sayre during the 2020-21 school year is not offered this year.

“Our asynchronous learning for our Google classrooms is set for only our students that are quarantined or have a positive test result or close contact,” said Daloisio. “The only full-time online learning that we have available for Sayre is the SOLA program ... and it is available for K to 12.”

She went on to say that masks breaks remain in place for 10 minutes per hour, and that students are not required to wear masks outside. Additionally, close contact distance is three feet, as opposed to the six feet rule from last school year.

In Athens, resident Debra Huber spoke up against the mask mandate.

“This is illegal,” said Huber. “What we are doing to our children is child abuse.”

She noted that her granddaughter was homeschooled last year to avoid the mask mandate, and was excited to attend public school again with no masks.

“She went to school thinking there were no masks,” Huber said. “A week later, when they were told ... she said everybody put their heads on the desk.”

Huber said she believes masks are depriving children of oxygen.

“I have handouts, I have all the research that is done on paper, and you all better wake up to it because we’re doing our children an injustice,” said Huber.

During his report earlier in the meeting, Athens Superintendent Craig Stage noted the district’s emphasis on keeping students attending in-person.

“Our focus is going to be intensively on in-person leaning throughout this entire school year,” said Stage.

He went on to express his gratitude toward not only the district staff, but the students as well for their resilience and hard work. He also noted their ability to make the best of the situation.

“We love that,” said Stage. “We love seeing them exceed in everything, so we’re looking forward to a good rest of the school year.”

Erik Berggren can be reached at eberggren@morning-times.com or (570) 888-9643 ext. 231.

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