In what is becoming the norm, COVID-19 cases and masks were the primary focus of Wednesday’s Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board meeting.
The agenda featured two items relating to possible mask mandates: one recommending a mandate on buses, the other making the same recommendation for inside all district buildings.
The bus mandate failed after a 2-2 vote. Torri Anderson and Ben Owens voted for the measure and Jim Jordan and AnnaMarie Knorr opposed. Board member Robert Downey did not attend the meeting.
An opt-out option was made available with the district proposal that would allow parents to not have their child wear a mask for up to a year.
That provision made Knorr question the mandate recommendation.
“With the opt-out option that’s presented with the mask mandate (it) really doesn’t make it a mandate – it makes it an option,” Knorr said. “Well, masks are currently optional. So, what I see happening is we have a mask mandate with an opt-out option, it just causes administrative problems for teachers, for bus drivers, for people who work in the cafeteria because how is an employee going to know if a child has an opt-out of the mask mandate?”
During discussion of the mandate indoors, Anderson, who was the only board member to wear a mask at the meeting, said she sees both sides of the argument, and also has tried to separate her personal opinions from what is best for the schools.
“Personally, I believe masks and vaccines are the best way to eradicate the virus,” she said. “I also believe that parents have choice. In public education, I’ve always said that parents have the power. So, if those parents want to choose to put a mask on their children, then I think we should fully support that. But then there are those parents who, as obviously we’ve heard tonight, who don’t want to mask their children and we need to be respectful of that as well.
“While this debate is always going to be emotional and heated, I’m hoping parents will be great parents for their children. Parents need to make that choice and they need to be strong, determined passionate advocates for their children.”
The indoor mandate never came to a vote. After discussion, it was agreed the board would revisit the issue at its next meeting, Sept. 8.
One of the primary areas of objection to mandates was Gov. Doug Ducey’s looming executive order banning such mandates, which goes into effect Sept. 29. In the meantime, the district’s current COVID mitigation strategies will remain in effect, which include optional masking both indoors and outdoors; quarantining at the parent’s discretion after close contact; and mandatory, 10-day quarantine in the case of a positive test.
Board president Ben Owens highlighted the personal nature of some of the emails he received on the issue.
“I will tell you that the emails I received where there was a threat, I was belittled, or that were demeaning, I’m not going to deal with that, personally,” he said. “If someone isn’t going to respect me and have the decency to write a respectful email to me, I’m not going to listen to it and I’m not going to read it, and I’m simply going to delete it.”
A dozen citizens voiced their opinions in the public comment portion of the meeting. Of the 12, 10 were opposed to any kind of mask mandate; two were in favor.
Greg Lomelli, a U.S. Navy veteran, spoke against the mandates.
“I am firmly against mask mandates in schools,” Lomelli said. “Children have a higher chance of dying on the way to school in the car. Mask mandates and forced vaccines are the beginning of medical tyranny. I refuse to live under a medical dictatorship. I’m an American; I believe in freedom.”
Dr. Ronnie Manns pointed out vaccination records are required in schools for many other diseases. He also said as a veteran, he supports the freedom to not be vaccinated.
“If they choose not to get that vaccination, that choice should be respected, and it should be honored,” he said. “But they also must realize that with every choice there’s consequences, there’s results. And they need to be able to live with those results.”
Manns received some catcalls from the audience for his position.
Carrie Dudley knew her position in favor of the mandate would be unpopular, saying as she began, “Y’all are not going to like me.” She suggested temperature checks before students get on the school bus and children with elevated temperatures not being able to board the bus.
“The point of ‘my right to wear a mask or not wear a mask,’ that part ends when you endanger my life or my child’s life,” she said. “When you’re in school, wear a mask. Make it a part of the dress code, how about that? That’s what they did in Texas. And guess what, if you go against the governor, guess what? Biden has money for you for going against the state.”
Read more at: MUSD makes masks optional for summer school – InMaricopa