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Five Democratic school board members were fired after a Pennsylvania judge signed a petition saying they defied a code by voting to make face masks mandatory for students.
Chester County Judge William Mahon ordered five of its nine members to be immediately removed from the West Chester School Board on Tuesday after they voted to make masks mandatory at the beginning of the school year.
It kept the decision in place after the Pennsylvania state of emergency ended in June and two months after the state’s Supreme Court declared the mask mandate unconstitutional in December.
President Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Herrmann, and Daryl Durnell were all fired after they failed to respond to a February petition – brought forth by parent and former English teacher Beth Ann Rosica. She said the board had no right to force students to wear masks.
President Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Herrmann, and Daryl Durnell, all Democrats, were fired from the board after they voted to keep the school district’s masking policy in place at the beginning of the school year. Masks are currently optional in the school district, but the board did vote to reimplement if transmission rates rise (pictured L-R: Laura Detre, Karen Herrmann, Sue Tiernan, Kate Shaw, Daryl Durnell, Joyce Chester, Karen Fleming, Bob Sokolowski, Stacey Whomsley, Kalia Reynolds and Gary Bevilacqua)
President Sue Tiernan (left) and Kate Shaw (right) were fired from the school board on Tuesday
Daryl Durnell (left), Joyce Chester (right), and Karen Herrmann were also fired from the board.
Judge William Mahon signed the petition on Tuesday calling for their removal after the five board members did not respond within their 20 day limit of Rosica filing the petition. The group’s lawyer is asking for a reconsideration and to give the group until April 5 to respond, as that would be 20 days from the March 15 motion the judge ordered, not from Rosica’s February filing
‘Once the Supreme Court declared that was unconstitutional we implored our school board, we asked and asked and begged and pleaded and made comments to lift the mask mandate, and they refused,’ Rosica told WHYY News. ‘When they refused, that is when we made the decision to file the petition.
‘I did not believe they had the legal authority to mask our children. I want to ensure they will never be forcibly masked again,’ Rosica cited in her petition – which was written with fellow parent Shannon Grady – according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. She referred to masks as ‘unapproved medical devices’ and said schools shouldn’t be able to exclude children who test positive for the virus. She also cited that masks ‘suffocate’ and ‘abuse’ children.
Masking is currently optional in the school, but the members did vote to reimplement the masking policy if transmission rates rise.
Grady found a ‘loophole’ where she could petition for the members’ removal while researching what she could do to remove the mask policy. She found a code that stated she could petition to remove members for ‘for failure to organize or neglect of duty.’ The rule states that ‘any ten [or less] resident taxpayers’ can file a petition for removal and the members would have 20 days to respond.
Kenneth Roos, the lawyer representing the board members, said they have submitted a motion for the decision to be reconsidered and to give them until April 5 to respond, according to Fox News. The judge based the date on when Rosica filed the petition in February and not when the judge ordered the motion on March 15, which would have given the members until April 4 to respond.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Sokolowski said in a statement that the removal of the board members was ‘procedural’ and ‘does not address any of the allegations made in the complaint.’
They were released of their duties on Tuesday, one day after the school board meeting (pictured)
Parent and former English teacher Beth Ann Rosica (pictured at the board meeting) filed the petition against the board. She and the board now have seven days to recommend five replacements
‘While we do not have all of the answers at this time, please be assured that the West Chester Area School District and I remain deeply committed to the mission of educating and inspiring the best in our students,’ he said.
The school board and Rosica have seven days to submit five replacement recommendations for the ‘unexpired terms’ of the members. The motion for reconsideration will be held by the board on Friday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
There are other petitions pending in the district – Downingtown, Great Valley, Tredyffrin/Easttown, and Coatesville – according to Rosica. The same judge will also be ruling over the Downingtown petition, which Grady also filed.
Rosica is the executive director of Back to School PA, which is backed by a Buck County donor that has reportedly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into school board races across the state since November, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Rosica has also opposed district pandemic measures.