8/9/21 School Board Meeting Guide

It was a busy night at Monday’s school board meeting. Here is some of what you missed:

Pandemic Safety

The district’s health and safety plan currently calls for masks to be optional for all students and staff this fall, but also explicitly gives the superintendent the authority to institute public safety measures, such as universal masking, as warranted by the level of transmission in the community and the level of vaccination in the schools. This plan was not on the agenda for discussion last night, but superintendent Campbell reiterated this policy, announced she was not making any changes at this time, and reminded everyone that changes may be needed in the future. You can watch her comments here.

Since the optional mask policy was first proposed in East Penn, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, and many other public health experts have recommended universal masking in schools. Community spread in Lehigh County has gone from “low” (with an average of 4 daily new cases) in June to “substantial” (with an average of 50 daily new cases). In response to these recommendations, the sharp rise in local cases, and the higher contagiousness of the Delta variant, I have urged the district to implement universal indoor masking at our elementary and middle schools, where our kids under 12-years-old do not have access to the vaccine. I have written more about this in two posts: Reconsidering Masks and Misunderstanding Masking.

Two community members spoke in favor of universal masking at the beginning of the meeting. Seven others spoke against it, backed by a loud crowd of supporters who cheered their speakers and jeered others (as well as jeering the board president, who was trying to enforce the standard public comment rules). Masks can be annoying, uncomfortable, and distracting, not to mention making it harder to communicate at times. But they have also proven effective in reducing transmission of covid, and represent our best chance for keeping the community safe not to mention keeping our kids in school and our school buildings open.

Crossing Guards in LMT

Lower Macungie Township has informed the school district that they are no longer willing to partner with East Penn to provide paid crossing guards for kids in the township. The district currently provides half the compensation paid to Lower Macungie Township crossing guards, but does does provide any money to crossing guards in Emmaus or elsewhere in the district. The board agreed on the importance of having crossing guards on busy roads around schools like Willow Lane (in LMT) and Lincoln (in Emmaus), but that taxpayers in places like Emmaus should not be subsidizing the cost of crossing guards in Lower Macungie Township when a) the township itself is unwilling to contribute to the cost, and b) places like Emmaus must rely on volunteers. You can watch the discussion here.

Anti-Nepotism Policy

The administration proposed changing the district’s strong anti-nepotism policy so that it more closely resembles the policy of other districts in the Lehigh Valley. More specifically, the changes would allow the hiring of family members of existing employees as long as one family member does not directly supervise another family member. The administration believes this will make the district more competitive for hiring the best administrative leaders.

Board discussion of the issue centered on making sure any revised policy still provided strong protections against nepotism, including prohibiting family members from participating in hiring committees, prohibiting family members from being in positions that might lead to indirect conflicts of interest, and having an expansive definition of what counts as a family member. You can watch the discussion here. A revised version of the policy will be voted on in a future meeting.

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