West Middlesex parents protest new Pa. mask mandate in schools

Local News

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. (WKBN) – All across the state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, parents and students voiced their opposition to the new school mask mandate. Locally, a group of about 12 people held signs and wore shirts outside the West Middlesex school complex. One message was, “I don’t co-parent with the government.”

Governor Tom Wolf announced last week that he was reversing course on letting each district decide their own mask policy by imposing a mandate through an order drafted by Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam.

Wolf blamed misinformation and school board intimidation for his decision to not let local boards decide.

Those protesting in West Middlesex said all elementary students not wearing a mask were put into a single room — close to 30 children — and their parents were called one by one to pick them up. They said it happened as soon as the students got to school. Several parents said they had to miss work and are angry about the way the policy was rolled out.

“Mask up or go home, that’s what they’re telling us,” said Jennifer Heaney, the mother of second and fifth graders.

Parents said they sent in exemption forms for the mask policy but the school didn’t accept them, regardless of any health conditions.

“They’re getting particular about what kinds of doctors they will take the exemption from,” Heaney said.

Elementary school children said they were not allowed to go to their regular class and were taken to the arts and crafts room while the school called their parents.

“It was our crafting room so we did decorations,” said third grader Gian Stevenson.

Fourth grader Joshua Bigley has asthma and sleep apnea.

“I didn’t want to wear a mask with my health condition. I didn’t want to take it on and off and get screamed and yelled at by teachers to put them on,” Joshua said.

But the father of high school aged children said his kids weren’t separated from masked students.

“They’re actually in class without a mask on. Earlier, the oldest one was being harrassed a little bit by an adult,” said Michael Dorn, the father of ninth and 11th graders.

Parents at Tuesday’s protest said they are starting a petition to allow their children into school without masks and hope the school will reconsider.

“Yes, there is a virus, it is out there, but you’re taking education away from our children who need to learn and be able to survive for themselves when they get older,” said mother Jessicarea Bigley.

Parents said they were told they have one week to get a local doctor to sign an exception note. For this week, they will be segregated but after that, they will either need to mask up or stay home.

Tuesday evening, West Middlesex Area School District Superintendent Raymond C. Omer sent out the following message to all parents and guardians.

The District values the right of peaceful protests.  We also respect the rights of all students, staff and parents to be on campus in a safe manner free of obstruction and distraction; therefore, beginning immediately, all gatherings must be held off of school property.  

Additionally, parents should drop off and pick up in designated locations and not exit cars to gather on school property.  All vehicle traffic should exit campus after your child is picked up or dropped off.  

Added assistance from the Shenango Twp Police Department and our School Resource Officers will help to ensure that our campus remains focused on the safety of all students, staff and community members. Any violation will be considered trespassing in accordance with our safety and security plans.

We respectfully ask that you adhere to our requests so that we can continue to operate a safe and focused school campus. 

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