East Penn’s revised health and safety plan approved
The East Penn Board of School Directors unanimously approved the adoption of the district’s updated health and safety plan July 12.
Several in the audience defiantly refused to wear a mask, when asked by President Ken Bacher at the beginning of the meeting. They had come to protest mask wearing and express concerns the plan was too flexible, worried “arbitrary” COVID-19 restrictions could be easily reinstated.
Before the vote, three residents approached the board with public comment on the health and safety plan.
Emmaus resident Kerri Ranck supported the district’s ending the mandated mask wearing. She questioned the vague “maintaining social distancing to the greatest extent practical” language in the new plan. “I’m happy to see that the gym will be utilized as a gym again,” she said. “What about libraries?” Ranck asked.
“This is theater and we’re sick of it!” declared Macungie resident Jason Jenkins as he gave an impassioned performance criticizing the directors for still wearing masks while vaccinated at the meeting. “Stop virtue signaling,” he said while saying disclaimers on boxes of face coverings read: “No protection from COVID.” He provided statistics that children were less likely to die from COVID-19 and expressed doubts about the safety of available vaccines. “I hope you are not going to pimp out our schools for vaccination locations,” Jenkins said as he slammed the district for its relationship with Lehigh Valley Health N etwork.
Jenkins asked about plan specifics regarding meals in the cafeteria and bus transportation. He said did not want to see his child boxed in by partitions while eating lunch for another school year. “My kid is suffering in ways you can’t even imagine,” he added, “When is it going to be enough?”
“I’m actually running for East Penn School District School Board,” Rachael Vermeulen said as she introduced herself. The politically active Macungie resident and educator cited a PA code that defines interfering with the breathing of a child as “child abuse.” A participant in the recent Rally for Choice – My Child My Choice in Allentown, Vermeulen said, “I’ve been at every rally!” and described her work fighting mask mandates.
“The CDC [Centers for Disease and Prevention] just lost the lawsuit in federal court in Florida,” Vermeulen announced about a recent mask mandate case. “It is our intention to hold every one of you, as well as anyone else involved in the making of the health and safety plan, personally liable in court. We are already going after school districts so be prepared,” Vermeulen declared.
“Please make masks optional. Please allow us, the parents, to make medical decisions for our children,” she concluded.
On another topic, Lower Macungie Township resident and retired psychiatric nurse Doris Farrar spoke about her concerns regarding how critical race theory could be divisive to district students, depending on how it’s taught. Although an advocate of learning from the country’s history, including its social and racial injustices, Farrar said, “The concept of holding certain individuals hostage of history will not change attitudes. Placing individuals together to promote acceptance and learn from each other creates a growth process of respect.”
The revised American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Health and Safety Plan immediately brings the district to a return to much of its pre-pandemic modus operandi for the summer and upcoming school year. There are some COVID-19 protocols still in place.
Most importantly, masks will be now optional for all students and staff except as required by state or federal mandates.
Masks are still required for students and drivers on school buses in order to be compliant with a January federal order. School Superintendent Kristen Campbell said when the federal order is lifted, so ends the district’s mandate as well.
School facilities will return to pre-pandemic layouts to prioritize in-person instructional experiences. Physical distancing will occur to the greatest extent practical and consistent with prioritizing educational instruction. This includes some classroom furniture being returned to instructional spaces, but ‘nonessential furniture’ will remain outside classrooms to maximize available space. Gymnasiums previously used for additional cafeteria seating will be returned for use for physical education classes. Additional seating will be added in cafeteria spaces when feasible.
In response to board member questions and the public input, the administration assured residents children would return to a “typical” pre-pandemic recess experience and will again have regular access to the school libraries. Students will not be separated by partitions while seated with their friends during lunch.
Students and staff will be required to wash hands or sanitize before lunch. High touch areas like door handles, will be sanitized often. Locker areas will also be sanitized. Classrooms will be cleaned and disinfected nightly per CDC recommendations.
Students with disabilities will have access to the same programs and opportunities as non-disabled peers.
In her district update, School Superintendent Kristen Campbell announced the start of the district’s Summer Learning Academy for students in kindergarten through grade 5 at Shoemaker Elementary School. The Emmaus Rotary Club, along with several other local service organizations, will continue the weekend food pickup program for community families. New student in-person orientation sessions are set for August and kindergarten registration is encouraged for children who turn five by Sept. 1.
In personnel matters, the directors acknowledged the retirement of Emmaus Assistant Principal Jessica Thacher. She will report to her new position as supervisor of STEM (K-8) to replace retiring Michele James effective Aug. 10.
Approved new hires include Jennifer Knerr to teach first grade and Alyssa Machado to teach kindergarten at Wescosville Elementary School and special education social studies teacher Justin Miller for grades seven through 12 and special education expansion for pre-K through grade eight. Eight full-time substitutes were also approved, with some of those positions being ESSER funded. All are effective in August.
Assistant Superintendent Douglas Povilaitis provided a first reading on updates to board policies addressing electronic signatures and records and East Penn district social media.
Bacher announced there was an executive session held 6:45 p.m. before the public forum on personnel issues.
The next regular, in-person school board meeting, with masks optional, will be held 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9 in the administration building, 800 Pine St., Emmaus. The public can access documents through BoardDocs via a link on the district website.