Note: An earlier published version of this letter included information about how individual school board members voted that may have lacked context. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused. According to the draft meeting minutes from the Jan. 10, 2022 Southern Lehigh School Board meeting, the following motion was approved by a 7-2 vote: “Masks must be worn from the start of the school day until the end of the school day from 1/11/2022 until 1/21/2022. The District will comply with all mandates.” Per the meeting minutes, the motion was made by board members Emily Gehman and Kyle Gangewere. Voting in favor of the motion were Jeffrey Dimmig, Nicole King, Stephen Maund, Priya Sareen, Emily Gehman, Mary Joy Reinartz and Kyle Gangewere. Voting against the motion were William Lycett and Cristopher Wayock. An earlier motion that masks “must be worn from the start of the school day until the end of the school day from 1/11/2022 until 1/28/2022” failed by a vote of 5-4, with Dimmig, Gehman, Gangewere and Sareen voting in favor of it and Wayock, Reinartz, Maund, Lycett and King voting against it, according to the draft minutes. Video of the Jan. 10 meeting may be viewed here. To read the current Southern Lehigh School District health and safety plan, click here. According to the district’s website, “effective Jan. 24, 2022: Mandatory Masking ends–SLSD will be mask optional.” It is further confirmed in a Jan. 20 letter from Assistant Superintendent Karen Trinkle that “the Southern Lehigh School District will move to mask optional, for students and staff, on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.” The next Southern Lehigh School Board meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Southern Lehigh High School cafeteria.
Masks have been a highly debated and dividing topic over the last 22 months and it hasn’t looked like there was an end in sight. Advocates in favor of masking to protect from infection of COVID-19 have continuously butted heads with those that are in favor of individual choice to wear, or not wear, a mask. The largest area of debate has been the decision about what children should do when in school, and for 2020 and 2021, students of Southern Lehigh School District have not had the choice to attend school unmasked, until now. Thanks to community voices and a majority vote of the school board, the district will allow the wearing of masks to be an individual choice, and this is an important step towards maintaining fair and balanced policy-making for the community.
On Jan. 10, 2022, the SLSD school board voted in favor of the district moving to a mask-optional policy for students and staff, after having masks required since the return to in-person learning in 2020. I want to personally thank these members for their votes to place these parental powers back in the hands of the community members that attend the board meetings and voted to have them on the board in the first place.
This is a fantastic step towards leveling the scale of fairness and balance regarding this topic. The most common dissenting argument to allowing masks to be optional has been, “just not right now,” which has left many asking, “if not now, when?” The goal posts continued to get moved, frustrating many, to include the discussion at the Jan. 10 board meeting. A prior meeting had set the date of Jan. 11 as the first day of masks being optional, but this was overturned on the 10th. However, the ability to compromise on the 10th should be highlighted and be a reminder to all that there are more people in the community than just the person you see in the mirror: we are not alone.
I truly believe that the response to COVID-19 has put everyone into a state of grief and with that comes the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Everyone knows someone that is in one of these specific stages right now. There is a group of people that made it to the acceptance stage quickly, and those people are the ones that have chosen to live without fear. Those people accepted that we would all have COVID-19 at some point, regardless of the variant, and made a risk assessment that best fit their lives. Many people are still stuck in the bargaining stage, willing to do anything so long as they will be spared from the virus. They will stay home, wear a mask, wear two masks, receive three vaccinations, mask their 4-year-old…whatever it takes. They have yet to realize that no matter what they do, they will still, one day, have COVID-19 and all they bargained away was their ability to think for themselves, their bodily autonomy, their physical and mental health, and all of that which belongs to their children. I do not want to live in a society that accepts being controlled by one group of people because that is not how our founding fathers envisioned life in a free country.
The real reason masks have been a highly-contested topic, at least in the school setting, is because it was a very recognizable sign of parents losing the right to choose what is best for their children. No one has said that masks won’t be allowed in school; in fact, the opposite has been said with the mask-optional policy. The district will be providing access to KN95 masks to those that want to continue masking, and that is fantastic. Our kids should be allowed to be kids and every adult has once been in their shoes: we need to remember that. Zero injury, illness and death are unobtainable and utopian goals that should not be taught to our children, and this policy is a fantastic step in teaching them the power of personal choice and responsibility.
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