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HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Hollidaysburg District School Board voted 5-4 to allow optional concealment in its schools Wednesday night.

Board members Carmen Bellic and Jennifer Costanza, who were recently elected to a four-year term in the November elections, were significant in the meeting’s proposals.

During the first public comment session, Duncansville resident Michael Iardley called on the council to take action to remove masks, contact tracing and quarantine. Erdley cited his child’s experiences in multiple quarantines, saying he felt his child received less education because of the quarantine.

After agreeing to a variety of business items, Costanza initially made a proposal to make concealment optional for students.

“As parents expressed, I feel we should be able to make masking optional. If a child or a parent decides they want a mask, they can wear a mask. But if they don’t, they don’t need to.” Costanza said.

On the topic of contact tracing, Costanza said it doesn’t help students in terms of their education.

“We are an educational district. Our main mission is to focus on educating our students,” She said.

However, the district attorney said that due to the Sunshine Act, a motion to amend the night’s agenda would be needed because the change was not made public during the minimum three-day period before the meeting.

It briefly appeared that there would be no vote, prompting members of the public to express concern about not being able to put forward a motion until next month.

After clarification from the attorney, Costanza rescinded the initial proposal to make the concealment optional and instead made a proposal to amend the night’s agenda.

The Council voted by 5 votes to 4, approving the possibility of amending the meeting agenda. Constanza then reworked her original animation to make Hide optional for students. The motion moved to a vote, pass 5-4. Costanza, Bellick, Emmanuel Nichols, Kenneth Snyder and Nicole Hartman all voted in favor of voluntary concealment, while Lonna Frye, Doug Stephens, Scott Brenneman and Ronald Sommer all voted against.

After the optional masking motion was passed, Bilek submitted a motion to tweak the agenda again to discuss removing contact tracing and quarantines. The council approved the proposal, prompting Bellek to submit a formal proposal to remove contact tracing and quarantine.

Board attorneys recommended for legal and liability reasons that the district continue to implement contact tracing and quarantine, following the guidelines of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Department of Education.

Supervisor Robert Gildia said he supports the legal advice given by the attorney. Board members Brenman, Sommer, Frey and Stevens echoed Gildia by offering their support for following counsel’s advice and against deportation.

The board moved into an executive session to discuss contact tracing and quarantine around 8:05 p.m. and board members did not return to the library for about an hour. Upon returning, Bilek announced that the Board would put the proposal forward until the next Board meeting.

There are action items for the Board to take between now and the next meeting on January 12th. Nicole Hartmann, chair of the board, said the board directed management to set new standards and that the health and safety plan should be a serial item on the agenda each month for discussion and for management to seek a second legal opinion.

Hartmann also said that the board is awaiting the outcome of the Pennsylvania court’s decision regarding the mask. The meeting adjourned shortly after nine o’clock

In another Board action, officials agreed district tax fees and other revenue sources to be sufficient to balance the final budget for the 2022-23 school year based on maintaining current tax rates or by increasing rates by an amount less than or equal to the Act 1 index.

An index of Law 1 applicable to a school district is calculated by the state’s Department of Education, according to the board meeting agenda. The index applied for the following fiscal year is 4.2%, which means Hollidaysburg cannot raise estate taxes, or any other tax that supports public education, by more than 4.2%.

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