Note: This story has been updated with additional information and source material.
The Southern Lehigh School District released a public statement Thursday, after St. Luke’s University Health Network CEO and President Richard A. Anderson criticized its school board for the manner in which the hospital network was recently removed as a collaborator from the district’s COVID health and safety plan.
In the statement, the district blamed local media for reporting “inaccuracies” about the board meeting during which the decision was made to take SLUHN’s name off the plan and said it wants to improve communication with the health care network.
In his Jan. 31 letter to school board president Mary Joy Reinartz, Anderson cited a Jan. 25 Morning Call article about the meeting and told her he was “appalled at the tone of the comments from your School Board members and you at the (Jan. 24) meeting.”
Below is the full statement issued by the school district Thursday:
Southern Lehigh School District and St. Luke’s University Health Network are strong partners in supporting the health and wellness of our shared community, especially its children. Our organizations collaborate to meet the mental health challenges of Southern Lehigh students, train its student athletes, share information promoting wellness, and provide a wide range of other services in alignment with our organizations’ overlapping missions. St. Luke’s University Health Network has called into question Southern Lehigh’s commitment to this relationship and the high regard we hold for St. Luke’s based on a recent article in the local press. Leadership from Southern Lehigh School District has reached out to St. Luke’s and scheduled a meeting to discuss the inaccuracies in the article and how best to improve communication. Southern Lehigh looks forward both to this discussion and to a strengthened partnership between our organizations.
The following is a quote from the Jan. 25 coverage of the board meeting by the Morning Call referenced by Anderson:
“Remove St. Luke’s from the cover,” Reinartz said during the meeting, to which board member Jeff Dimmig added, “Lose collaboration with St. Luke’s.”
In an update to its Feb. 3 story about Anderson’s letter, the Morning Call issued a clarification about Dimmig’s quote:
Anderson says he became aware of the comments when he read a Jan. 25 Morning Call article that quoted Reinartz as saying, “Remove St. Luke’s from the cover,” because the health network’s policies don’t completely align with the district’s COVID policies.
It also included a quote attributed to board member Jeff Dimmig “to lose collaboration with St. Luke’s” that The Morning Call on Thursday clarified. Dimmig made a motion, at Reinartz’s request, to remove “that portion of the plan that designates this plan was developed in collaboration with St. Luke’s University Health Network and the St. Luke’s logo thereunder.”
The full discussion may be heard in the video recording of the meeting posted on the SLSD Transparency YouTube channel.
The full discussion begins at approximately 1:12:15, when board member Dr. Priya Sareen addresses her concern about the appropriateness of continuing to state that the district’s health & safety plan was developed in collaboration with St. Luke’s.
“The first page of our health & safety plan–it sort of struck me when I was reviewing all of it,” she said. “It clearly states that this plan was developed in collaboration with St. Luke’s. I’m not so sure that that’s really the case anymore.”
“That’s fair,” superintendent Dr. Michael Mahon then interjects.
Sareen then goes on to point out that St. Luke’s recently issued updated recommendations to their partner school districts to reflect new CDC guidelines.
“I get that it’s been lost with respect to the group that we have up here today and now moving forward, however, I thought it was important to at least mention that they continue to recommend masking, they continue to distinguish between asymptomatic-symptomatic, vaccinated and unvaccinated, and certainly I have it available for anyone who would be interested in learning more about it, if anyone would like to hear about it up here today, but I’ve gotten the impression that some of my fellow board members are not receptive to even knowing more about it,” Sareen said.
Board member Stephen Maund later responded it was “a little presumptuous” to assume that he might not want to see the updated recommendations, and that he did.
Sareen’s commentary continues until approximately 1:31:00, when Reinartz says, “I would like to have a motion to accept the revisions to the 2021-2022 safety plan, with the removal of St. Luke’s University Health Network on the cover.”
Dimmig then makes the motion, adding, “I think it’s a fair, I mean it’s an obvious, point. I don’t disagree with it.”
Anderson’s letter was sent not only to the Southern Lehigh School Board, but also to all SLUHN employees who live in the district.
In it he advised them that “effective immediately St. Luke’s will no longer collaborate or provide information to the Southern Lehigh School District related to COVID or other public health issues” and said “we at St. Luke’s practice respect and civility, basing our decisions on science, not politics.”