Walter A. Schroth is president of the Indiana Area School District Board of Directors.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Op-Ed represents the views of the author Walter Schroth, who is speaking as an individual member of the Indiana Area School District board and not the thoughts of the board collective. Schroth is board president.

As I started to write this editorial, it struck me that it was exactly 18 months ago, March 13, 2020, that the Pennsylvania governor and his cabinet took their first actions directly impacting the operations of our schools as a result of the COVID infestation. From the very beginning of their first attempts, they have done a lousy job in their communications and rollout of the various plans, programs, edicts and mandates. What occurred over the last week or so with the mask mandate was no exception and was typical of most of their past efforts.

The governor’s position all summer had been for this issue to be resolved at the local level. And that is exactly what this board, the administration, the parents and members of this district did during July and August. We came together and hammered out a local plan that would meet the needs of IASD and our community. Did it meet everyone’s expectations or desired outcomes to a tee — no — it did not! But it was a good compromise, and more importantly, it was our community’s compromise.

I want to tip my hat to our superintendent and his entire team for all of their hard work, time and extra efforts they all put forth in developing our current Health and Safety Plan. It is more than unfortunate that the governor’s mask mandate made much of those efforts for naught. I also want to thank the board for their time, work and efforts to guide the administration in their tasks to meet the needs of all of our community, not just those of one group over another.

I especially want to thank the community for your efforts in providing valuable thoughts, concepts and insights during the development and writing of that Health and Safety Plan. We listened and heard all voices — to a tee? Again — no — but we incorporated your input as best we could to meet the local needs of all of our residents. I especially want to extend my gratitude to those who attended our meetings during this process for the respectful presentations of their thoughts and opinions. It added greatly to the civil discourse we so desperately needed to resolve this type of issue. What we did here this summer was a text-book example of how a democracy is supposed to work — it is always the art of the compromise. I do want to point out that if we were still operating under our Health and Safety Plan, as of Friday, Sept. 10, we would still be in mask optional. Yes, I also acknowledge the number of cases we saw in the first two weeks of school are quickly taking us to some level of masking, as outlined in our plan — the point again is that is our plan, a plan that meets the unique needs of the IASD.

Now the governor has taken all of that away with his mask mandate. He and his cabinet secretaries now also own it — not the district and not this board. They have placed us in the untenable position of having to enforce something that we had no part in either developing or implementing.

Personally, yes, I am mad, I am angry, and I am frustrated. Throughout the summer we spent all of that time, effort, emotion and work, not to mention the district’s taxes, to build our local Health and Safety Plan — and for what? To have them pull the rug out from under us at the last minute — just before school starts? Whether that was his intention or not, that is surely how it feels! I chaff at this usurpation of the school board’s authority and ability to make decisions of this critical nature, both from a health and safety perspective as well as from a political perspective on the local level.

But I also understand my responsibilities both as a member and as the chair of this board. I am wearing a mask at this meeting, not because I personally believe in its efficacy, not because of physical need, not because I like it and certainly not because I want to, but because it is legally required, and as president of the board, out of a sense of duty and leadership to this district. We have looked at this from a number of points of view and as of now, it appears to be a legal and lawful order. In our system of justice only a court can provide that definitive answer. Currently there are two lawsuits making their way through the courts that will determine that question.

In addition, throughout my 14 years on the IASD board, I have never seen a governor take such threatening actions against both individual board members and the boards in general.

Nor have I ever seen them threaten to remove the district’s sovereign immunity for failure to comply, i.e. subject board member and the taxpayers’ pockets to unsubstantiated lawsuits.

I can assure you that each and every member of this board did not sign on for that sort of threatened or potential abuse from anyone. We serve on this board to give back to the community so that all of our students will become good, solid citizens of our area, contributing in a positive way for our society — to make Indiana a better place to live!

Wolf’s mask mandate has placed all 500 school boards in untenable positions. Believe me when I say to the community that this fight is not with us. We did not make this decision or have anything to do with its imposition. The fight is with those who did — Gov. Tom Wolf and his secretaries of health and education and not those who are simply trying to meet those requirements.