EASTON, Pa. – Parents who had hoped to get a final decision on whether or not students in the Easton Area School District will be required to wear masks for the upcoming 2021-22 school year will have to wait a bit longer.
On Tuesday, the district's board of directors approved its revised health and safety plan for the upcoming school year but failed to decide if masks will remain mandated in schools due to recently updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and St. Luke's University Health Network.
"The new guidance has required us to hit pause on the mask discussion, for now, but does not change our primary objective," said Superintendent David Piperato.
All students in grades kindergarten through 12 will return to in-person, five-day-a-week instruction come the start of the new school year, he added.
Due to the CDC's recently updated recommendations on mask-wearing in schools, however, Piperato said the board plans to hear more information about the topic from medical professionals at St. Luke's sometime next week.
"Just yesterday, St. Luke's released guidance that said, quote, 'Unvaccinated individuals should wear masks in school.' While the ultimate decision will be made by the school district, we need to fully consider the guidance that was suggested," Piperato said.
On July 9, the CDC updated its guidance for schools with students in grades K-12. Recommendations emphasized the benefits of in-person learning but also said, in part, "[S]chools where not everyone is fully vaccinated should implement physical distancing to the extent possible within their structures (in addition to masking and other prevention strategies) but should not exclude students from in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.”
Many parents who called into Tuesday night's virtual board meeting voiced their concerns over continuing to require masks for students, especially those who are under the age of 12 and not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.
"It should be our right to decide whether or not we have to make our children wear masks in schools," said parent Christine Frey. "It should be, 'My body, my choice; my kid, my choice.'"
"Let them breathe. Make masks optional," said parent Danuta Byra. "This is a government overreach that sounds very similar to me."
"At this point, the rate of COVID in Northampton County is so low that if we don't feel comfortable then we're probably going to be masking our children until it's gone," said Faith who has a kindergartener in the district.
However, not every parent who called in was in favor of lifting the mask mandate immediately.
Laura, a parent with a district child under the age of 12, said she would like the board to consider not lifting the mask mandate until after children under age 12 can get vaccinated for COVID-19.
"I think it's unfair of people who have waited for their children to get the vaccine," she said.
A decision is expected to be made at the school board's next meeting on August 17.