Their return to the West Chester School Board comes just three days after Chester County Judge William Mahon ordered they be immediately removed after a parent-led petition argued they acted illegally by requiring a coronavirus-era restriction that the state’s Supreme Court had previously declared unconstitutional.
‘Removal of school board members cripples the school district,’ Mahon told a courtroom packed with hundreds of parents, teachers and other community members on Friday, Patch reported.
Mahon claimed he removed Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Herrmann, and Daryl Durnell from their board positions on March 29 because their attorney failed to respond to the February petition in a timely manner.
The petition, brought forth by parent and former English teacher Beth Ann Rosica, alleged the board had no right to force students to wear masks.
The judge reiterated Friday that the board members’ removal had been a ‘procedural result’ and was unrelated to the allegations made in the complaint.
Five Democrats who were ousted from their elected positions on a Pennsylvania school board after voting to make face masks mandatory for students have been reinstated (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)
Attorney Kenneth Roos, who represents the school board, told Mahon during Friday’s hearing that he did not purposely meet the deadline for filing a response to the petition.
‘It was not our intent to disrespect the court,’ Roos said, noting that he thought the deadline to file a response was April 5.
Mahon, grilling the attorney in front of the 300 people in attendance, said the deadline had been March 15, noting that Rosica – who is representing herself – had been aware of it.
Roos apologized for not knowing the time frame, to which Mahon reportedly replied: ‘Everyone is entitled to due process of the law.
The judge, however, said the deadline was March 15 in accordance with an updated schedule for filing a petition.
Roos apologized for not knowing the time frame. But, the judge pointed out that Rosica, who is representing herself, was aware of the deadline.
‘Everyone is entitled to due process of the law,’ the judge said.
President Sue Tiernan (left) and Kate Shaw (right) were reinstated to the school board on Friday. The two board members, along with three others, were removed from their board positions on March 29 because their attorney failed to respond to the parent-led petition in a timely manner
Daryl Durnell (left), Joyce Chester (right), and Karen Herrmann were also reinstated. The judge reiterated Friday that the board members’ removal had been a ‘procedural result’ and was unrelated to the allegations made in the complaint
School mask mandates have been a flashpoint of parental ire in recent months. A group of parents and community members are pictured protesting COVID mandates on the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol last August
Rosica, who described herself as a concerned parent, expressed gratitude that her case will proceed, alleging she would rather the petition be evaluated by the strength of its argument.
‘I would rather win this petition on its merits rather than on a technicality,’ she told WHYY.
She said that although the school mask mandate was lifted due to lower COVID outbreak levels, her petition will continue because the board has safety standards in place that could result in another mandate if cases increase.
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.
She has also openly opposed district pandemic measures.
District Superintendent Robert Sokolowski issued a letter to parents Friday afternoon providing an update on the situation thanking the West Chester community for its patience.
‘As more information regarding the ongoing legal proceedings becomes available to share, I will be sure to keep everyone up to date,’ Sokolowski said.
Judge William Mahon signed the petition (pictured) calling for their removal last Tuesday after the five board members did not respond within their 20 day limit of Rosica filing the petition
The West Chester School Board (pictured during last Monday’s board meeting) opted to make masks mandatory at the beginning of the school year, but the members did vote to reimplement the masking policy if transmission rates rise
The West Chester School Board opted to make masks mandatory at the beginning of the school year, but the members did vote to reimplement the masking policy if transmission rates rise.
However, Pennsylvania’s state of emergency ended in June and the state’s Supreme Court declared the mask mandate unconstitutional in December.
Rosica said parents moved forward with the petition after repeatedly asking the school board to reconsider its ruling on mask mandates.
‘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 said after the members were ousted.
Parent and former English teacher Beth Ann Rosica (pictured on March 28), who brought on the petition, said she is pleased the case will proceed. She said: ‘I would rather win this petition on its merits rather than on a technicality’
‘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.
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.
Democrats Tiernan, Chester, Shaw, Herrmann, and Durnell were removed from the board after Roos failed to respond within the given time frame.
There are other mask mandate-related 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.
Pennsylvania’s state of emergency ended in June and the state’s Supreme Court declared the mask mandate unconstitutional in December. A demonstrator is pictured at an anti-pandemic measures protest on the steps of Pennsylvania State Capitol last year
Rosica claims there are other mask mandate-related petitions pending in the district. A group of striking healthcare workers are pictured protesting in front of Tyler Memorial Hospital in April 2021
News of the board members’ reinstatement comes as New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday he would be going back on his promise to lift his mask mandate for children under the age of five because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, despite a recent ruling by a Staten Island judge that it can’t be enforced.
The mayor’s decision is a complete reversal from just 10 days ago, when Adams promised he would unmask the city’s toddlers on April 4.
Adams and new New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan made the announcement at a press briefing Friday, where they said the rising levels of the virus would make it irresponsible to go forward with the plan.
‘That’s why we are recommending to wait a little bit longer to make masks optional for this age group,’ Vasan said.
Adams and Vasan would not give a new date for the city to consider lifting the mandate.
Staten Island Supreme Court judge Ralph Porzio ruled Friday that the mask mandate was unenforceable because it’s ‘arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.’
Adams said that his administration will file an appeal, leaving parents and children in the balance over what the rules are when they return to school Monday.
Parents and officials were outraged by the announcement.