HAMBURG, Pa. — Superintendent Richard Mextorf said masks will remain optional in the Hamburg Area School District next Tuesday, despite an order from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's administration mandating masks in schools starting next week.

The superintendent said the school board made masks optional, and he does not know what to do.

"Do I risk losing my commission from the government to be able to work at Hamburg?" he said in a video statement. "Or do I risk getting fired by the school board for being insubordinate to their directive? So I don't know what to do."

Mextorf said he has asked the board to hold a special meeting on the issue, which will take place on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The only item on the agenda will be the topic of masks, and he expects to receive guidance from the school board about how to proceed. Mextorf said there will be no public comment during the meeting.

"I'm not making any changes to our current practice of masks being optional on Tuesday, Sept. 7," he said. "The board will give me direction after that, which I will communicate to all of you."

The school board approved the district's health and safety plan on July 19. In it, the district said it would follow masking and physical distancing recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the state Department of Health, to the "greatest extent possible." The plan, however, stops short of requiring masks, stating only that masks and face coverings would be "made available as needed."

On Aug. 9, the school board unanimously voted to keep masks optional, even though Mextorf said on Aug. 5 that he wanted to take the time until Aug. 23 to assess changes in the COVID-19 situation before making a final decision on masks.

"I hope you can appreciate the position that I'm in," Mextorf said in his video statement. "I don't know what to do here — whether I'm supposed to follow the guidelines from the state, whether I'm supposed to follow the directives from the board."

He noted, "And the board was very explicit and made it clear they were the only ones who can change the decision relative to masks."

Acting Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Alison Beam issued the order to require everyone inside K-12 schools and daycare centers to mask up, effective at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 7.

Failure to implement or follow the order may subject a person to penalties under the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955 and exposure to personal liability, according to the governor's office.

"I just don't want our kids to be in the middle any more than they already are, and I want to do the right thing," Mextorf said, "but I don't know what the right thing is to do, depending on who you talk to."

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