LEWISBURG — Tri-County North Board of Education members and school administrators discussed the ongoing effects of COVID-19 at their regular monthly meeting Monday, Oct. 19.
Shawna Stump, who stated that she was a parent of both high school and middle school students at TCN, thanked the superintendent, board members, and other school district staff before criticizing their compliance with state-ordered mask mandates.
“I respect that you have spent countless hours working for our students,” Stump said. “However, we are doing a disservice to our students by continuing to mandate masks in our schools.”
Despite mask and social distancing mandates, most Preble County schools have reported COVID-19 cases since the start of the 2020-21 school year. Both National Trail High School and Preble Shawnee recently had to suspend in-person classes due to large outbreaks.
The Preble County Health Department had reported 610 COVID-19 cases in the county as of Oct. 21, including 61 cases in patients under 20 years of age and 18 deaths.
Stump quoted the oath which every school board member recites before taking office, saying that it requires them to support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Ohio.
“Nowhere in this oath is it stated that you will support the Ohio Health Department or the Preble County Health Department,” Stump said. “Mandates are not laws. Suggestions are not laws. The tyrannical governor’s wishes are not the law.”
Stump also made reference to federal lawsuits filed against Gov. Mike DeWine, former Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, and other state officials, as well as a September ruling by U.S. District Judge William Stickman that struck down certain COVID-19-related restrictions in Pennsylvania.
“What is the school’s liability going to be one year, or five years, or 10 years down the road, when we discover that mask mandates have caused irreparable damage to our kids?” Stump asked.
Stump insisted that parents, rather than school officials or politicians, should be given responsibility for safeguarding their children’s health.
“Do you tell me how to prevent Strep throat in my child?” Stump asked. “Or how to prevent the flu that runs through the school every single year? My child’s safety is my job, my responsibility, and no one else’s.”
Finally, Stump quoted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study which stated that 85 percent of symptomatic COVID-19 patients reported wearing masks “always or often” in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms. The results of this study have been largely misinterpreted according to the CDC, however, as masks are generally intended to protect others by hindering the spread of the virus, rather than mask-wearers themselves.
Board members did not engage Stump in discussion about the mask mandate, though she was told that they would take her comments under advisement.
K-4 Principal Joe Finkbine reported that a recent bill intended to eliminate state testing for the 2020-21 school year had “gone by the wayside.” Third-grade reading and language arts testing is slated to begin in October, according to Finkbine. Further tests will be conducted in the Spring.
5-8 Principal Joe Hoelzle reported that the yearly eighth-grade Washington D.C. trip – usually scheduled in November – had been pushed into March. Hoelzle also said that payments would begin being collected for the trip soon, as failure to do so could affect the school’s ability to rent tour buses for the trip.
9-12 Principal Kristen Mills also addressed state testing concerns.
“We are all-hands-on-deck at the high school,” Mills said, indicating that “safe harbor” laws would shield teachers and school districts from being penalized if students underperform. Similar measures were put in place during the 2019-20 school year to mitigate the effects of state-ordered school shutdowns, according to Mills.
Mills also reported that high school staff would be working with “at-risk” seniors to help them pass state tests.
Superintendent William Derringer reported that the district had received a Broadband Connectivity Grant in the amount of $60,586.47.
“With that money, if we do have to go virtual at some point as an entire district, we will have some hot spots available for people who don’t have internet at their homes,” Derringer said.
Derringer stated that another recent grant will extend the school’s free lunch program, which was due to end in December, through June.
Finally, Derringer reported that all members of one of the school’s athletic teams had been sent home from school and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days after a school employee associated with the team tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Nobody wants to do that, but that’s where we are right now with the requirements,” Derringer said.
Tri-County North Board of Education meetings take place the third Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the High School Lecture Room.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish