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South Middleton Schools

South Middleton School Board could vote Monday to make masks optional starting Jan. 31

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South Middleton School District 2

South Middleton School District will see four new board members take office this month. Two incumbents are leaving the school board this month.

The South Middleton School Board could vote Monday on making masks optional for students and staff starting Jan. 31.

The proposed revision to the district health and safety plan came out of a discussion Wednesday by safety and security committee members Bill Hartman, Tony Lucido and Rodney Wagner, Superintendent Jim Estep said during a phone interview Thursday.

Board members serving on committees can discuss and recommend policy to the full board, which has the final say.

While Lucido and Wagner supported the revision, Hartman struggled with the timeline and thought it prudent to continue with a few more weeks of universal masking to increase the odds of keeping students in school, Estep said.

To allow more time for the omicron surge to peak and drop off, Estep asked the board to wait until early to mid-February to implement a mask optional policy.

The majority of committee members were comfortable with one more week, not two to three, Estep said.

The board may also vote on a revision that would address the quarantine of students identified as close contacts, but displaying no COVID-19 symptoms.

There have been many cases where asymptomatic students have missed multiple days of school without actually getting sick, Estep said. The proposed revision would make the quarantine of asymptomatic students voluntary, not mandatory, making it easier for those children to continue in-person instruction.

Several Cumberland County school districts have a provision in their health and safety plan that triggers the closure of individual school buildings if 5% or more of the student body tests positive for COVID-19.

“That’s what we’re going to follow,” Estep said. “However, I would never just automatically shut a building down without first having a discussion with the board.”

He wants the ability to call an emergency meeting of the safety and security committee if the rate of infection at any building approaches the 5% threshold. “We will have a discussion and then make a recommendation on whether or not to shut the building down,” Estep said.

The plan Monday is to have the board establish some kind of threshold — either as a percentage or a set number of students per building — in which to trigger an emergency meeting with 24 hours of public notice.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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