September 2, 2021
The 2021-22 school year has gotten off to a great start! Although there are always a few bumps, staff and students seem happy to be back and are settling into a routine. Thank you to all parents and staff who have made this possible.
On Tuesday, August 31, 2021, we were informed by state officials (Pennsylvania’s Governor, Acting Secretary of Health, and Secretary of Education) that a new Order has been issued by the PA Department of Health. Simply, the Order states that “each teacher, child/student, staff, or visitor working, attending, or visiting a school entity shall wear a face covering indoors, regardless of vaccination status.” We are disappointed that this information has come to us after the start of our school year. Although our current Health and Safety Plan allows for optional masking, this Order overrides all Board-approved Health and Safety Plans. This new Order will take effect on Tuesday, September 7, 2021.
In a communication from the PA Department of Education to Superintendents, the Secretary acknowledged that mask requirements “can’t go on forever” and that continuous evaluation of conditions will take place so that an October 1st update on the Order can be provided to the education community.
Our school district attorneys and insurance carriers have advised that we must follow and enforce the PA DoH Order at this time. We have also been advised that we can be held liable as a district or individually if we do not attempt to comply with the Order.
I have received numerous emails from parents with various viewpoints on masks. Please know that we acknowledge that this issue is an extremely emotional topic and has, unfortunately, created a divide in our communities. We all may have different beliefs and opinions, but our goal is the same. We all want our students to have a conflict-free space where they can focus on learning, stay connected to each other, and continue to receive the services they need. We also recognize that parents’ passion comes from seeking what is best for their own children and that this Order may conflict with those feelings. In order to work as a team toward our common goal, we ask for your help to support the administration, teachers, and staff who are working to maintain a safe and orderly educational environment. Together, we have worked hard to keep our students in school and provide them as many learning and extra-curricular opportunities as possible. I, along with the School Board, Administration, and staff, have shared your frustrations. Ultimately, we are asking that we continue to do what we can to work together. We all want our students to be in school, safe, and happy.
As with past notices from PDE and the PA DoH over the past 18 months, we are left with additional questions. From what we can glean at this time, there are a few items related to the mask Order that help us create a better environment than last year:
- The new mask Order only applies to indoor settings, and there are a few exceptions to this as well. Staff will continue to provide students with mask breaks in the classrooms, as well as opportunities for going outdoors. The Order does not apply to athletic practices or competitions indoors or outdoors.
- Additional details regarding other exceptions and exemptions are included in the Order and FAQ referenced above.
- As you know, the definition of close contact involves individuals within 6 feet of the positive case. However, when students are wearing masks, the CDC allows us to use 3 feet as the metric to identify close contacts for students. This means that, with all students wearing masks, we should have fewer quarantines, which keeps more students in school and able to learn and participate in activities.
- Some parents have asked if it is possible to enroll their child(ren) in the Tyrone Cyber Academy while the new mask Order is in effect. The answer to this is “Yes.” Parents wishing to enroll in the Tyrone Cyber Academy may do so, but we ask for your patience in this enrollment process, as staff are currently working through the beginning of the year registration requests. Parents may visit the Tyrone Cyber Academy website to learn more about enrollment.
Please be patient as we wait to see if additional information comes to us from the state legislature or the judicial system, and what other options that we will have available to us. However, based on the information we have at this time, we are required to comply with the new DoH Order beginning Tuesday, September 7, 2021.
The TASD Parent FAQ posted on the TASD COVID-19 page has also been updated to reflect this order.
Thank you for your support. I believe we all agree that our students need our schools to be open for full-time instruction and we will do what we can to maximize the chances for normal school operations. We all must work hard to remember that, despite the craziness and things that we cannot control, our students have returned in person, and we are looking forward to a great year!
Leslie A. Estep
It is the policy of the Tyrone Area School District not to discriminate on the basis of gender, handicap, race and national origin in its educational and vocational programs, activities, or employment as required by Title IX, Section 504, and Title VI. Please direct questions about this policy to the Superintendent of Schools at 814.684.0710 Ext. 4123.