WCSD solicitor addresses school mask mandate
At the Whitehall-Coplay School Board meeting Sept. 13, attendees again addressed the board regarding the school mask mandate. One person was in favor of masks, while three were opposed.
Solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik provided attendees with an explanation of where the school board stands from a legal perspective on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s school mask order, which went into effect Sept. 7.
Before the state DOH order, Whitehall-Coplay School District had implemented a mask-optional policy.
“The order’s authority itself doesn’t emanate from any FDA requirement but does emanate from the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955, which grants the Department of Health the authority to carry out the appropriate control measures when it becomes aware of a report of a disease which is subject to isolation, quarantine or other control measure, and that’s found in 35 PA Stat. Section 521.5.
“Likewise, the law further provides ‘the department shall be responsible for the prevention and control of communicable and noncommunicable diseases in any municipality which is not served by a local board or department of health, including disease control to public and private schools,’” Sultanik quoted.
Sultanik said a hearing was scheduled for Sept. 16 before the commonwealth court that would address litigation on the subject to resolve the issue. However, the hearing has since been postponed.
Sultanik said while there aren’t any specific penalties or sanctions for noncompliance, it is stated that for each day the order is violated, a fine between $25 and $300 and up to 30 days of imprisonment is possible.
Sultanik also reported if the court agrees with the order, the Department of Education would view noncompliance as willful misconduct. Individual school employees could then be held liable for failure to follow the order.
“The question is whether we impose that risk on our professional staff and on the commissioned officer who is our superintendent,” Sultanik said, adding the DOE can remove a superintendent’s commission for going against the mandate.
Sultanik said at this point, masking is not viewed as a constitutional right.
“I think the board is very sensitive to the strong viewpoints that many of you have in the community, and we get it. We understand people have very, very strong opinions on the subject, and as you know, prior to the imposition of the order, this board did support - for right or for wrong - the mask- optional view,” Sultanik said. “And it was the order that changed the situation. This board is not responsible for the order. That was decided and, actually looking at the process, carefully planned.”
Sultanik said the board, after weighing the pros and cons, feels complying with the mask order is in the best interest of taxpayers and WCSD.
Also at the meeting, 2021-22 Student Council representatives introduced themselves to the board, including Alexis Quach, president; Amanda Gonzalez, treasurer; Mackenzie Laub, vice president; and Mikayla Warren, event coordinator.
Quach updated the board on Homecoming events, including the bonfire after Whitehall Township’s annual Halloween parade, scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 7. There will be food trucks and yard games at the bonfire.
The Homecoming game is Oct. 8, and the Homecoming court will be introduced at halftime. The Homecoming dance is set for 7-10 p.m. Oct. 9.
This year’s Homecoming slogan is “Life has no remote; get up and change it yourself.”
In other news, WCSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Steckel introduced Stephen Seier, who has been appointed to the newly created position of districtwide director of educational operations, with the compensation of $120,000 per year. Seier has 30 years of experience in the education field, with 20 in educational leadership and administration. He will be responsible for overseeing resources, technology, transportation and building and grounds.
The next school board meeting will be 7 p.m. Oct. 11.
Committee meetings on operations/transportation, finance/personnel and education/student activities will be held 4 p.m. Sept. 27 and Oct. 25.