As the first day of school approaches for students across our region, new COVID-19 policies are being set in place.
For Westmont Hilltop School District in Cambria County, their “health and safety plan” was approved last week by the board.
“It doesn’t make any sense to come up with this mandate, other than the fact that it splits the school in two.”
That’s what Melissa Pribozie mother of two Westmont Hilltop High School students said about being frustrated with the new school guidelines.
In a letter sent out to parents, school officials write, “The plan provides vaccinated students and employees the option of wearing a mask and eliminates many of the quarantines that kept many students and employees home throughout last year.”
But the rules are different for the unvaccinated population within the school.
Students and employees that do not have a vaccination card on file with the school district will be required to wear a mask while attending school.
Pribozie says this will cause segregation, animosity, and bullying.
“It singles out children that are unvaccinated and makes them wear a mask, whereas vaccinated children do not have to. It creates a divide in the school,” she said.
She created a petition to make her voice heard, along with hundreds of other parents in the district, which now has almost 1,000 signatures.
“We want parents and families to be able to discuss with their children, and make their own decisions about masks and vaccines, which should be a parent right.”
Westmont Hilltop School Officials say the plan focuses on the practices that will allow the schools to operate.
“Hopefully, the encouragement of the vaccine or masks will allow the school district to operate without interruption, offer continual in-person instruction, allow extra-curricular activities without cancellation, and drastically reduce the number of student and employee quarantines,” they wrote in the parent letter.
The school nurses will collect vaccination documentation, make a copy of it for the student’s file, and return the original documentation to the student or parent.
Pribozie says that could be a violation of FERPA and medical privacy for students and employees.
She also says the guideline “doesn’t make sense” because of current recommendations from the CDC.
“Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” CDC officials write on their website.
“Either let us choose or mask everybody. Don’t segregate our students based on vaccination status. It makes no sense.”
No student or employee will be required to wear a mask outside or during athletic competitions, but all students are required to wear a mask on the school bus.