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Face mask mandate to stay in place for NASD

The face mask mandate in Northampton Area School District will continue despite requests to end it from some residents at the Oct. 11 board of education meeting.

On a night when a new school director was sworn in and two school directors were honored, the solicitor for the school board, Atty. C. Steven Miller, said the face mask mandate to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic would stay in place for students, staff and visitors in district buildings and on school buses.

Among the estimated 20 residents at the meeting in the Northampton Area High School auditorium, many of those who spoke questioned the validity of the face mask mandate, a topic that has dominated NASD board meetings after the policy was implemented as part of the health and safety policy approved Aug. 23 by school directors.

The administration had said it would review the district face mask mandate in early October.

“Even if the board wanted to unmask or make it optional, we can’t because the health and safety plan is in place,” Miller said.

Miller noted the Pennsylvania Department of Health acting secretary made it mandatory for face masks to be worn in school buildings and on school buses, effective Sept. 7.

Parents can apply for an exception to the face mask mandate for their child if a medical note is obtained from a physician, Miller said.

Regarding a vaccine mandate, Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik said, “I am unaware of any mandate the district is going to require. I don’t believe that anything is on the radar screen.”

In other business, a mother’s complaint led to a discussion regarding TikTok challenges in the district. TikTok is a social media video platform popular among students. A TikTok challenge for the month of September allegedly urged students to steal from and vandalize school bathrooms and post videos of the damage. This challenge was called “a devious lick.”

The district mother complained that students were allegedly not being allowed to use bathrooms in district schools.

“As of last Friday, we reopened all the bathrooms,” NAHS Principal Luke Shafnisky said. “We do discourage use (of bathrooms) between classes because we want students to get to classes quicker. We do post monitors at the bathrooms. We have not encountered any bathroom damage.”

“This week, the latest is slap a teacher,” Kovalchik said of the newest TikTok challenge. “Yeah, that’s what’s happening on social media.”

According to USA Today, students have been arrested in the alleged TikTok “slap your teacher” challenge. USA Today reported an 18-year-old Louisiana student faces charges of suspicion of battery of a schoolteacher - a felony - after she allegedly attacked a 64-year-old disabled teacher as a part of the challenge, according to police. Similar incidents were reported at a middle school in Massachusetts and an elementary school in South Carolina.

In answer to a question about the district Chromebook program, Kurt Paccio, NASD director of technology, reported the district sells old Chromebooks to a vendor. He noted they are not thrown away.

There was a question about NASD’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief federal grant.

“ESSER funding was used for the Summer Bridge program, technology purchases and George Wolf Elementary School HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, which is 20 years old,” Kovalchik said. “$3.5 million of ESSER is going directly to George Wolf.”

Shafnisky announced 25 NAHS students will be inducted into the National Technical Honor Society 6 p.m. Oct. 14 at Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School.

“That’s the highest number of inductees,” Shafnisky said.

An open house is planned to be held 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at BAVTS.

Renee Sallit, Borough Elementary Schools principal, said $1,300 was raised by the teachers’ Casual for a Cause drive in September for Second Harvest Food Bank, which will fund 8,000 meals for NASD students.

“We are very happy to continue this program,” Sallit said.

Kovalchik welcomed new school Director Kim L. Bretzik, who took the oath of office from Denise A. Vilkauskas, NASD secretary to the superintendent.

“Welcome to the board. I know you’ll do a great job. The school board is happy to have you here,” Kovalchik said.

Bretzik, of Moore Township, represents Region 3, which includes Bath and Chapman boroughs and Moore Township. She is cross-filed in the Nov. 2 general election.

Bretzik, of the NAHS Class of 1986, is married to Jerry Bretzik, Class of 1981. They are the parents of Jessica, Class of 2019; Sophia, Class of 2021; and Gerald, eighth grade, Northampton Area Middle School.

She has worked for 26 years in revenue operations for iHeartMedia Inc., which owns and operates radio stations, including WAEB, B104 and WZZO in the Lehigh Valley.

Kovalchik presented school Directors Roy Maranki and Chuck Frantz with plaques from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association for eight years each of service on the board.

The NASD website COVID-19 data dashboard seven-day building totals, Oct. 5-11, as of Oct. 11, are NAHS, 8; NAMS, 1; Borough Elementary, 5; Moore, 2; Lehigh, 3; George Wolf, 0; and district administration, 0.

The board of education is next scheduled to meet 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25 in the NAHS auditorium, 1619 Laubach Ave., Northampton. Face masks are required. Personal items are checked, and attendees must walk through a metal detector.

PRESS PHOTOS BY PAUL WILLISTEIN Northampton Area School District Director Kim L. Bretzik takes the oath of office from Denise A. Vilkauskas, NASD secretary to the superintendent, at the Oct. 11 board meeting.
School Directors Roy Maranki, left, and Chuck Frantz are presented with plaques Oct. 11 from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association for eight years each of service on the board. The plaques were presented by NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik.