A Pennsylvania school board overturns superintendent's mask mandate

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

This is literally one of those “local news stories,” but perhaps one that should have larger ramifications on a national level. It takes place in McCandless, Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh. At the North Alleghency School District, the school superintendent recently announced that face masks would be mandatory for all students and staff at the start of the school year. This provoked a variety of responses from parents and students, both pro and con. When the school board met last Thursday evening, the subject of masks wasn’t even on the agenda. But it quickly became the center of discussion when parents and teachers stood up to speak. The debate was reported sharp but largely civil, stretching until the wee hours of the morning. In the end, though, the board elected to put it up for a vote. By a two to one margin, the board voted to override the superintendent and make masks optional for any parents who wanted their child to wear one. (CBS Pittsburgh)

The issue of mandating masks is dividing school districts and school boards across the region. To some, it’s a matter of health and safety. To others, it’s an issue of choice and individual freedom.

At 1 a.m. Thursday, the North Allegheny school board voted to overturn the superintendent’s order to requiring mandatory masking — one more heated debate over masking that has gripped the region.

A vote on masks was not even on the agenda, but Vienna Zamperini, a rising second-grader, addressed the board, thanking the district for making them mandatory.

The vote could have gone either way and I wouldn’t be complaining since I don’t live there or have a child enrolled in that district, so I don’t really get a say in it. But the larger point I wanted to make was that it sounds as if this was handled on a local level and it was done far better than some of the debates taking place nationally.

This is one of the arguments you’ve seen conservatives around the country making on a regular basis. One-size-fits-all solutions are rarely good, and when it comes to schools, dealing with such disputes locally and with the input of the parents seems far more productive. As I already said, if the preponderance of the parents had been in favor of the mandate and were persuasive in their arguments to the board, the mandate would have stayed in place. The opposing parents could then make the decision to either send their children, send them elsewhere, or homeschool them. And if that was the community decision, so be it.

Also worth noting is the fact that nobody was trying to ban masks from the school. Any parents who still wished to mask their children while in school are free to do so. The same goes for the teachers and the rest of the staff. If they want to wear a mask, they can feel free to do so. Hopefully, someone will take the time to explain to the children why some people are wearing masks and do so in a nonconfrontational, informative method.

One of the first comments I noted being posted to the local news article was along the lines of, that was a great resolution. How can we apply this at the state and national levels? But that’s the entire point. You can’t! Or at least you shouldn’t. What worked in North Allegheny might not be a satisfactory solution in the next township to the east or west. The parents there might want to enforce a mask mandate by a significant margin. And if their school board is equally open and responsive to the wishes of the families, their choice might go the opposite way. And there’s nothing wrong with that either.

I wish the parents, the students, and the teachers at this district the best of luck. I’m sure they will wait and watch the results, looking to see if there is a significant spike in new infections and/or hospitalizations as the school year proceeds. If so, perhaps they will revisit the question. And if they do, that’s fine also. Leave it up to them to decide.