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More school districts make masks optional

Mars, A-C Valley, Slippery Rock clarify policies

Three area school districts have joined the ranks of those making masks optional in school buildings in the wake of the recent state Supreme Court decision to rescind the statewide school mask mandate.

Mars Area, Allegheny-Clarion Valley and Slippery Rock Area school districts decided to return to their previously approved health and safety plans over the weekend. Each plan makes masks optional for students and staff.

The three districts join Butler Area, Karns City Area, Moniteau and South Butler County in removing the mask requirement.

“That does indicate that students and staff have the option of wearing a mask if they wish,” said Susan Miller, Slippery Rock assistant superintendent, on Monday. “However, masking on public transportation is a requirement as far as the federal mandate to do so.”

At A-C Valley, Superintendent David McDeavitt in a statement also reminded families that masks are still required on buses and vans due to a federal mandate, and encouraged the community to continue following COVID-19 safety protocols.

“All other mitigation efforts are still in place; remember to stay home when you are sick, wash your hands often, and maintain social distance when you can,” McDeavitt said. “Personally, due to the ongoing spread of this virus, I still plan to wear a mask in high traffic areas and around people who may be sick.”

The previous A-C Valley policy stated that, “as of June 28, 2021, face coverings are optional for all individuals (staff, students, parents, and visitors), but the district encourages individuals to wear a face covering.”

Mars Area Superintendent Mark Gross said in an email to district families Saturday that masks would not be required under the health and safety plan but are still required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandate on school buses.“Current CDC guidelines state that students and drivers must wear a face mask that completely covers their mouth and nose while on the school bus,” Gross wrote. “Face shields do not meet this requirement.”In the statement, Gross also elaborated on quarantine procedures for the district, which he said will be determined by vaccination status and the use of face coverings.Students identified as close contacts who are fully vaccinated and masked will not be sent home from school or need to quarantine if they are asymptomatic. Students who are not vaccinated or who are not wearing masks at the time of exposure to COVID-19 will need to quarantine for 14 days.Students may reduce their quarantine period to 10 days without testing if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring, or can after Day 7 with a negative PCR COVID test result.

Seneca Valley School District students, however, will be required to wear face coverings in school — at least for now.As the sole Butler County district to implement mandatory masking in schools prior to the statewide order, in returning to its health and safety plan, Seneca Valley will continue to require masks for all students, faculty and staff in district buildings.The district, on Aug. 23, implemented a masks-mandatory policy while Butler County is considered by the CDC to be in the “substantial” or “high” levels of community COVID-19 transmission, the two higher levels. Currently, Butler County is designated as having a “high” level of community transmission.Should Butler County drop to the two lower levels of community transmission — the CDC categorizes these as “low” and “moderate” — masking will be recommended, but not required.Seneca Valley school directors, however, will convene in a special school board meeting Thursday, held via Zoom, at which the school board will be updated on the implications of the masking order's rescission and have the chance to discuss its health and safety plan.