Five members of a Pennsylvania school district’s board were removed from their posts on Tuesday after a petition was filed by parents angry that the board required masking children at the beginning of the school year after the Pennsylvania state of emergency ended in June and then kept the policy in place two months after the state’s Supreme Court declared the mask mandate unconstitutional in December.
On Tuesday, Judge William Mahon issued an order removing Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Herrmann, and Daryl Durnell because they had failed to respond to the February petition by March 22. Beth Ann Rosica, a West Chester parent who also serves as executive director of Back to School PA, filed the petition. She stated, “I did not believe they had the legal authority to mask our children. I want to ensure they will never be forcibly masked again,” referencing the district’s health and safety plan that allows the reinstatement of the mask requirement if COVID-19 transmission rates increase, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“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. When they refused, that is when we made the decision to file the petition,” Rosica told WHYY News.
The petition was written by parent Shannon Grady. She stated, “I started the research on this back in August, when I realized the schools were going to continue to mask children,” adding that she found a “loophole for removal of the school board” in the Pennsylvania’s Public School Code, which permits removal of board members “for failure to organize or neglect of duty.”
“Under the law, ‘any ten resident taxpayers can file a petition with the Court of Common Pleas, and the court ‘shall grant a rule upon the school directors, returnable in not less than ten or more than twenty days … to show cause why they should not be removed from office,” The Philadelphia Inquirer noted, adding, “It also says board members ‘shall have at least five days’ notice of the granting of the rule.”
The petition was served to board members Feb. 22; on March 15 Mahon ordered that a “respondent shall file a verified answer to the petition within twenty days of service upon the respondent.” By last week, the board members had not responded, prompting Rosica to notify the judge that the deadline 20 business days after February 22 was March 22.
On Tuesday night, responding to the board members’ removal, attorneys representing them filed a motion to reconsider, arguing the 20 days should have been dated back to March 15, from Mahon’s order, and thus the deadline should be April 5. On Wednesday, Mahon issued an order scheduling a hearing on Friday.
On Tuesday night, Superintendent Bob Sokolowski issued a statement saying that “special counsel to the district is in the process of preparing a substantive response on behalf of those school board members named in the petition. … 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.”