ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) — In Abington Township, the school board voted Tuesday night to mandate masks when school starts up in a few weeks. The board voted to approve the current proposal, which includes a mask requirement for all staff and students regardless of their vaccination status.
The decision has drawn widespread attention, including from Dr. Ala Stanford, the president of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, who has children who attend Abington schools.READ MORE: Mets, Phillies Minor Leaguers Protest Pay With Wristbands
Without a clear message on masks from the state, individual districts like Abington are left to decide how to welcome their more than 8,300 students back safely, often pitting parents against one another at a time when cases are rising in Montgomery County.
Tensions started before Tuesday night’s Abington School Board meeting even began when some in the crowd refused to wear a mask.
“Multiple people are not wearing their masks, and they may choose not to be vaccinated. However, that impacts my life, that impacts my children’s lives,” Dr. Stanford said.
The public debate included comments from parents both over the phone and in-person about the board’s current health and safety plan for getting students back to school safely this fall.
“What I’m hearing is that whether you’re vaccinated or not you’re not affording me or my child any difference,” one parent said.
“No one knows what is best for their children than the parents and grandparents,” said another.
“I think it’s important that it be consistent and that the board’s health and safety plan fully aligns with the county’s recommendations,” a parent said.
Key sticking points focused on mask mandates, as well quarantine and e-learning options, especially when the current proposal does not include proof of vaccination — all of which has left many parents frustrated.
“I don’t know why we are being forced to chose sides, mask or no mask, but I just think safety first,” parent Jean Murphy-Dixon said.
“I think it’s just a tough situation. I think it stinks, I don’t want my kids in masks all day but if those are the rules, those are the rules,” parent Stephanie Devito said.READ MORE: Official First-Edition Printed Copy Of U.S. Constitution Set To Go Up For Auction
Parents Eyewitness News talked to before the meeting had mixed feelings over school mask mandates.
“I feel like it should be optional,” a parent said.
“For the safety of everyone, I think they should wear the masks,” said another.
As parents begin their back-to-school shopping in Abington, some are adding masks to their lists.
“The community would be better off if the kids are being safe and the teachers are kept safe as well,” parent Agusto Heinerici said.
“I think they should wear them, I really do, for everyone’s protection,” parent Carol Griffitts said.
“I really think it’s the smartest and safest thing for the kids to do because you’re taking a risk of people bringing it home and giving it to your loved ones,” parent David Diggs said.
The proposal comes after the nearby Cheltenham School District sent a letter to parents Monday. It reads, “due to the spread of the Delta variant, the district will require everyone inside its buildings to wear masks, effective Monday, Aug. 16.”
“We’re all for it. We definitely believe particularly because our kids are not vaccinated, they’re just too young, we definitely want them wearing masks at school,” Courtney Heinerici said.
But other parents disagree.
“I have a 5-year-old and because I’m a mother to a young child, I don’t think mask mandates are really necessary for his age or younger,” parent Stephanie Piris said. “I think seeing the teacher’s expressions is very important.”MORE NEWS: COVID Outbreak At Robbinsville High School Cancels In-Person Classes For A Week
CBS3’s Alicia Roberts and Matt Petrillo contributed to this report.