VERNON TOWNSHIP — Masks were not on the agenda, but they were on the minds of several parents who attended the Crawford Central School Board meeting Monday, as was the first Saturday in December.

That’s the day — Dec. 4 — when the mask mandate for Pennsylvania schools will end, according to a ruling last week in a suit challenging the mask order by Acting State Health Secretary Alison Beam that went into effect Sept. 7.

“I really hope that Dec. 4 we can get past these face coverings, that we can opt out as parents,” said Tawnya Shaffer, whose two sons attend First District Elementary.

Shaffer repeated several of the same pleas that board members have heard consistently since their Sept. 20 meeting, the first held after the mandate was announced. Her boys have lost recess time as a result of problems wearing their masks, she said, and have complained of difficulty breathing and mask-induced headaches. She also questioned the effectiveness of masks worn by young children who are likely to touch their faces and have a hard time keeping their hands clean.

“These masks are disgusting, basically,” said Shaffer, who did not wear a mask at the meeting, before she addressed future concerns raised by the mask mandate and the way in which it was implemented. “Heaven forbid that they push this vaccine on our children because there isn’t enough, as far as I’m concerned, to see if it’s beneficial, if it’s deadly. We need to take a stand, and this is just beyond ridiculous. If you can’t see it, government is trying to control our lives.”

A sign posted at the entrance to the Instructional Support Center where the meeting was held reminded visitors of the district’s mask requirement. All of the board members and district staff who attended the meeting were masked. Of the 17 audience members present for most of the meeting, less than half wore masks.

On Nov. 10, the Commonwealth Court ruled 4-1 in favor of a challenge to the mask mandate, but that ruling was immediately appealed with an automatic stay keeping the mandate in place temporarily. But a week ago, Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon reversed the stay. In her response to a request from the plaintiffs in the case, Cannon said that the group, which includes parents, legislators and private school officials, is likely to prevail on appeal. Cannon also said that if a mask mandate is necessary, Beam has other means of imposing one.

While Shaffer, who drew a lengthy round of applause from audience members, was addressing the board for the first time, she was followed by three more district members who have been consistent critics of the mask mandate. Like Shaffer, all three waited for the public comment period that concludes the meeting and echoed her call for the district to make masks optional after Dec. 4.

One of them, Jessica McMaster of Cochranton, said that like Shaffer’s children, her first grader lost recess time when he refused to pull his mask up one day.

“He told (a staff member) he was having a hard time breathing and needed a break,” McMaster said. “She disciplined him and took away his recess. Now, a first grade little kid needs recess.”

In responding to the mask critics, board member Paula Jo Harakal welcomed their participation in the meeting but also cautioned that they are “but a few” of the voters in the district.

“The public at large does not always agree with us,” Harakal said, “and it does not always agree with you. We do our best in concern for children.”

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at

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