Central Bucks School Board voted to pass a Health and Safety plan 5-4 that institutes universal masking in school. Nay votes were cast by Sharon Collopy, Judi Schwartz, Tracy Suits and Dana Hunter, board president.
“I’m done with the bullying, effective tonight,” John Gamble said after announcing his resignation. He cited the environment that this debate has had on him and his family, that because of receiving death threats, he and his wife had police escorts and protection.
“This is the worst decision I have ever made,” said board member Leigh Vlasblom. She spoke about the environment and community response to the board, telling of constant threats and reading painful posts and memes about them and their families on social media.
This comes hours after Gov. Tom Wolf announced that masks would be required indoors at all private and public schools, including state-run child-care centers, regardless of vaccination status. In previous statements, the governor said local districts could dictate their masking rules. The mandate goes into place next Tuesday, Sept. 7.
“This is a necessary step to keep our students and teachers safe and in the classroom,” he said in a press conference less than five hours before the meeting. “Where they should be and where we want them to be.”
The governor also said that before he took action, “more than half of the school districts in the state had not taken action.” After turning to lawmakers, they yielded no results.
The meeting was held at Central Bucks High School West to accommodate the size of the crowd, and community members and parents became more agitated with each passing public comment. As the night progressed, members became more impatient.
Board President Dana Hunter asked for a few members of the audience to leave after their behavior became disrespectful and attempted to clear the room of the public because of rowdiness. In a surprising twist, public commenters gave their time to President and CEO of Doylestown Health Jim Brexler and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Scott Levy.
“We’ve seen a change of the spread,” Brexler said, assuring that Doylestown Health will work with schools and agencies to bring data of infections in the community. “We are desperately in favor for schools to be open, and we are here to make sure it happens safely.”
Dr. Levy confirmed that and spoke about how Doylestown Health was the first to remove the universal masking requirement when cases reached an all-time low. He said he was proud of the system’s efforts in clinical trials and physicians who “follow the data” beyond single studies. He had said the newest variant has up to 1,000 times the viral load as the original virus and is twice as transmissible.
Dr. Levy and Brexler were jeered by community members so loud it became impossible to pick up their words. Other medical professionals, such as James Hansen, a physician from Buckingham, said that though these are trying times, one cannot ignore the numbers.
“The Delta variant of COVID-19 is the most dominant form and has shown an increase of symptom burden to young patients, including children,” he said. Repeating that Bucks is a high transmission area for the virus, he said masks and vaccinations are the easiest and cheapest forms of protection from forced school closures.
Public opinion was divided, with many bringing up questions of how masking will be enforced and staff’s ability to assess students on whether they can or cannot go home or isolate. Others brought up the trials they experienced at home.
Jamie Walker and Shannon Harris, two district parents who filed a lawsuit in June, asking the court to compel CBSD to follow 2020 Bucks County Health Department guidelines, spoke against the universal masking in school. Harris focused on the mental toll of the masking order.