East Penn to decide on going mask-optional March 1

Photo+by+Alice+Adams.

Photo by Alice Adams.

Maddie Hess, Deputy News Editor

This previously ran in our February 2022 print issue.

On Monday, Feb. 28, the question that has divided the Emmaus High School community for months may finally be answered. 

Will the mask mandate be lifted for the East Penn School District?

After almost two years of COVID-19 affecting the everyday lives of EHS students and staff, many have had enough. The East Penn School District board meeting, held on Feb. 14, displayed the pent-up frustration of many parents and guardians across the district. The board may vote to make masking optional for students and staff inside schools starting March 1; masks would still be required on buses. 

Some audience members called out that students “have been suffering for two years now. It’s over.” 

Senior Lucas Fetters believes that masks should be optional. 

“If you don’t want to wear it you should, you know, have the freedom not to and the people that still feel they want to should wear it,” Fetters said.

Some students, such as junior John Shuman, are somewhat indifferent to the outcome of the board’s upcoming vote.

“I think that masks should be optional. It doesn’t bother me much either way, but I could understand why other people would have issues with it,” Shuman said. 

Chanelle Pena, a senior at EHS, believes that masks should be optional but understands that they may again be required for the safety of students and staff. 

“If it gets really bad again and the cases are going up, I feel like it should be required, but if they feel like it’s safe for us to make the choice, then we should make the choice,” Pena said.

While some are ready for this change in regulation, others are not. Before the school board meeting, multiple students were asked about their thoughts regarding the virus and its effect on the general welfare of the school. 

Senior Morgan Suppes expressed her concern with the size of the school and the unknown factors at play.

“The fear factor there, that people who are positive could be in the building just because they are asymptomatic, is scary,” Suppes said. 

According to the University of Florida, approximately 35% of all COVID cases are asymptomatic, the majority of these cases being in children and teens. 

Macy Butler, a junior at EHS, contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of January, right as new regulations were rolled out. 

The new regulations included the need for only five days of quarantine after a positive test result and having resolving or no symptoms. The CDC released these guidelines on Dec. 28, but the East Penn School District did not impose them until Jan. 2. 

Butler was informed that she could go back to school as it had been more than five days and she was fever-free. However, according to Butler, this felt too early and just plain wrong. 

“I thought it was way too early for me to come back,” Butler said. “I know that it is different for every person and that every person has different symptoms.” 

She also mentioned another aspect of the recent change: cutting the self-isolation time in half allows students to return to school much quicker and therefore miss less class time, which, especially with block scheduling, is more valuable than ever before. 

Regardless, Butler chose to stay home for a full 10 days, as she continued to experience symptoms. 

“Personally, I feel as if we’re such a large school that it could potentially continue to spread even worse… I always try to put everyone into consideration and their families,” Butler said. 

Junior Madison Shelton added her own mixed feelings on the subject. 

“I do understand why people would want those restrictions to be lessened and it does make sense, because a lot of people are going through the emotional and physical repercussions,” Shelton said. “But, I do not feel like we are taking the precautions we need to.”

These same opinions were seen at the Feb. 14 board meeting, where one student addressed the members with his anxiety and concern on the possibility of a lifted mask requirement. In response, the audience told him to simply “wear a mask.”

A vote on masking requirements was not originally advertised on the published agenda; however, solicitor Marc Fisher clarified that a school board can add items for approval if the majority of its members agree to take up an issue.

Director Michael Felegy motioned for the board to vote to immediately lift the masking mandate for the next school day, Feb. 15, which would require a second board member’s approval to proceed. This elicited cheers from the audience, but the motion failed without any other vote.

The majority of the audience was very heated after the motion was shut down, and an array of outraged comments could be heard.

Most notably, a resident yelled, “We know who the slave masters are in history now,” at the board members, comparing the mask mandate on children to slavery in the nation’s past. 

If the school board chooses to lift the mask mandate, they will be going against the CDC’s current guidelines; they would instead be following in the footsteps of Parkland, Northampton, Nazareth, and Catasauqua school districts that have already chosen to lift the mandate.