Longtime school board member Jack O’Leary resigned abruptly from the Delaware Valley school board on Sept. 9.
About 60 people converged on the meeting to protest the mandate requiring that all Pennsylvania students wear masks in school to slow the spread of Covid-19. “Masking children is child abuse,” said one sign. Other signs said “Freedom over fear,” My body, my choice, my rights,” and “Masks don’t work, follow the science.”
O’Leary came to the school board’s scheduled work session, announced his resignation at the top of the meeting, then walked out as the protestors clamored outside. He did not give the public a reason for his resignation, and did not return a call from the Courier requesting comment.
O’Leary has for years been the most popular member of the board with voters. He first won election to the board in November 2013 running on the Independent line. Since then he’s been the top vote-getter among DV school board candidates, winning handily in 2013 as an Independent for a two-year term and in 2015 and 2019 on the Democratic and Republican lines for four-year terms. His current term is up at the end of 2023.
The anti-maskers remained outside after they were denied entrance to the building because they were not wearing masks. Some put on masks and walked in. After adjourning the meeting early, the school board president, Jack Fisher, went outside to answer questions from the protesters.
The order from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which took effect Sept. 7, requires everyone who enters a school building to wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status. Before the state took action, school board member Brian Carso proposed that DV impose its own mask mandate for the first two weeks of school, citing the rapid spread of the Delta variant and increase in pediatric cases. Anti-maskers who attended the district successfully routed a proposal.
A resident of the district who asked not to be named said the school suspended 30 students who refused to wear masks and instead went off to spend the school day at Walmart. The Courier was not able to confirm this with school officials.
“We don’t discuss student discipline issues in public,” said Julie Ewald, the secretary to the superintendent of schools.
Parents push back
There is also pushback from the other side. “I wanted to speak to advocate for the health and safety of our children, but I myself didn’t feel safe doing it at the school,” said Tim Sohn, who attended the meeting as the parent of two Shohola Elementary School students.
“The original plan was for the board to hear what the public had to say regarding their positions on masks inside, and then take the meeting outside for them to hear from the dozens of anti-mask protesters,” he said. “There were even children outside holding up signs that said ‘I Am Not Sick’ and other things.”
But the public was not allowed to speak inside during the meeting, Sohn said. “Then some people during the meeting were speaking out of turn yelling from the back of the auditorium, and the board chairman immediately adjourned the meeting,” he said. “The rest of the board and the administrators left the auditorium.”
He said Fisher was confronted by several people in the auditorium, then “went outside and answered questions from dozens of people outside, who were mostly not wearing masks and very close together.”
Ewald confirmed that a parent complained about the mask exemption form that the district made available to parents.
“A parent said she called the Governor’s office to complain and they sent the complaint to the Department of Education,” she wrote. “That is all we know and that is according to the parent.”
Parent Kaitlyn Myrick told the Courier that her son was given an in-school suspension for wearing his pajamas. She sees this as a double standard.
“After the mask mandate was given by the state, DVSD called all parents on Sunday evening giving us in depth instructions on how to temporarily opt our children out of wearing masks, medical documentation is due by September 30,” Myrick said. “I used this same blueprint to temporarily opt my children out of the school dress code. I sent an email yesterday and asked the district to ‘please advise.’ I received nothing back, so I figured it was safe to assume they were accepting my temporary exemption request.”
She said she then got a call from middle school principal Mark McElroy letting her know about the in-school suspension because his pajama pants were “distracting to other students,” and said she could bring him new pants.
“I mentioned the email I sent yesterday, and he said, ‘Yeah I wasn’t responding to that,’” she said. “So now my child is being penalized, quarantined from other students, due to his pants? While countless unmasked children walk the buildings freely? The issue isn’t the dress code, the issue is the school board created a nearly 30-day exemption for parents who didn’t have valid medical documentation. For a safety mandate that is sent from a state level. But they can’t honor the same exception for a school rule? Why are we cherry picking which rules are followed and enforced and which ones aren’t?”
Johnny Palmadessa, a district resident and DV graduate, registered his disgust that adults were calling masked students names on school grounds before the board meeting and telling them to take off their masks.
“I seriously hope that this situation calms down in our community because it’s getting dangerous,” he said. “I know there are people questioning masks and vaccines so they can make the right choices for their families. Please keep researching, but some of you need to look at who you are joining forces with and realize what happens when mobs start to form.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original. Please see related stories:
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DV’s new mask exemption form requires doctor’s signature
“I seriously hope that this situation calms down in our community because it’s getting dangerous. I know there are people questioning masks and vaccines so they can make the right choices for their families. Please keep researching, but some of you need to look at who you are joining forces with and realize what happens when mobs start to form.” Johnny Palmadessa