WEST ALEXANDRIA — Several residents made pleas for masks to be considered voluntary during the 2021-22 school year during Twin Valley Community Local School District’s regular monthly Board of Education meeting Monday, May 24.
Parent Trisha Arndts asked for her children to be exempt from the “unenforceable and unconstitutional mask mandate” ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine. The mask mandate, along with other public health orders issued by the governor in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently scheduled to be lifted June 2.
“We feel it’s in the best interest of our children’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health for them not to wear a mask,” Arndts said. “Children are at a very low risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, as well as spreading it to adults.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children are less likely to develop severe illness or die due to COVID-19, though they can still contract and spread the virus; children with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk. Harvard Medical School, meanwhile, cites evidence that infected children carry as much virus in their upper respiratory tracts as adults.
Wearing masks “also creates the belief that we are in control of another person’s life or death,” according to Arndts. “And that is simply not true.”
Scott Arndts also addressed the board, pointing out that two board members and several other attendees, including Arndts himself, were not wearing masks.
“I’m here, and I haven’t been thrown out,” Arndts said.
Arndts also stated that mask mandates and social distancing guidelines were inconsistently enforced, with athletes and students attending sporting events being granted more leeway than those in the classroom.
“I thought school was more important than sports. But the way things ran this year, they weren’t,” Arndts said. “There’s a lot more grey area for sports and athletes.”
Several other attendees spoke, including Matt Thompson, who expressed gratitude for the efforts of Twin Valley staff and administrators.
“I would imagine most of you didn’t sign up to be a school member and have to deal with all this crap,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to take my hat off to you guys. I don’t imagine it’s been easy.”
Thompson felt the decision to wear a mask should be left up to children and parents, however.
“If the kids want to wear a mask, more power to them. If they want to walk around in school in a biohazard suit, go ahead,” Thompson said. “If they want to breathe fresh air and not put up with this, that’s their God-given right. You shouldn’t need permission to be able to breathe.”
Board President Tim Beneke stated that there are currently “no plans of coming to school with masks” in the 2021-22 school year.
“God willing, everything is going to get back to normal,” Beneke said. “That’s our plan for right now. Now if something comes up further down the road, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But right now we can’t even see that bridge.”
Board member Jason DeLong moved to put a policy in place to notify the public of any meetings between school administrators and public health officials, as well as make those meetings open to the public. DeLong cited meetings between Preble County Public Health and Superintendents from all five school districts during which county-wide responses to COVID-19 were discussed.
Beneke and Vice President Christine Bitner asked for the motion to be tabled to allow time for them to read over DeLong’s proposal before voting on it during the board’s June meeting. After a lengthy discussion, that motion was approved by unanimous vote.
In other business:
Superintendent Scott Cottingim once again updated the board on plans for a new preschool program. Plans to begin offering preschool services were previously discussed during the board’s Tuesday, April 27 meeting.
“It is really filling up quickly,” Cottingim said of the waitlist for the program, saying that six regular and five special education spots currently remain. The district previously operated a preschool program in cooperation with the Preble County Educational Service Center.
K-6 principal Patti Holly reported that 18 students had achieved perfect attendance during the school year, a statistic which impressed board member Jim Pemberton.
“I’d love to see those students come in front of us and be recognized,” Pemberton said.
Finally, the board voted unanimously not to renew its contract with Aramark, the company which provides food service for the district. The board previously discussed reconsidering the Aramark contract earlier this year, citing information from other local school districts which reportedly operate “in the black” while cooking and preparing food themselves.
Cottingim indicated that he planned to continue soliciting information from other school districts before making a decision on the Aramark contract, which he hoped to be able to do by the time of the board’s April 2021 meeting.
Twin Valley Community School District Board of Education meetings take place the fourth Monday of each month at 6 p.m. in the High School Media Center.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish