Board session includes discussion of masks in coming school year

District also cited for participation in the No Place for Hate program

The Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education had its monthly meeting on June 23, with Superintendent Dr. Carol L. Birnbohm recognizing accomplishments and addressing plans for fall’s school reopening.

Birnbohm acknowledged that three out of the four Lenape district high schools were featured in a video by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that recognized participation in the league’s No Place for Hate program.

“We’ve been participating in the Anti-Defamation League No Place for Hate program as a school district for several years,” the superintendent noted. “Each year, our schools create great programs to help educate our staff and students on diversity, inclusion and equity.” 

Shortly after sharing the ADL video with the board and the public, Birnbohm invited Cherokee Principal Donna Charlesworth, Athletic Director Scott Agnew, and head women’s lacrosse coach Jeff Niederberger to the podium to say a few words about the lacrosse team’s success this year. The squad finished the year with a 21-2 record and won the South Jersey Sectional Championship Title.

“We got our first taste this year, had some success because we had gotten knocked out of the semifinals two years in a row, and this year, we took a giant step forward,” Niederberger said.

“We got to the Tournament of Champions after winning the sectional state finals, but I don’t think our team is really that satisfied. I think going forward, we’re gonna put in the time and the effort to get back to where we have to go.” 

The school board then resumed its regular meeting agenda, and after making the motion to approve any payments or purchases, opened the session for public comment.  

Medford resident Molly Werosta, who has a son in the Lenape district, discussed her feelings on how the school year isolated her son in the majority of his classes.

“I have seen how his grades have suffered terribly, and there’s no reason for him to be subjected to essentially acceptable learning conditions,” she said. “It’s precious motivation, since he was treated like he had no option or no voice. We feel that it is our position to pull him out of school, allow him to get his GED and begin as an adult.”

Werosta went on to say it’s up to the district to lift its mask mandate, so children can have a normal experience in the upcoming school year. She also claimed that there is no proof the masks provide any benefit.

Birnbohm responded that the board and its staff have been doing everything in their power to update parents on weekly COVID cases, immediately implementing state guidelines and providing access to the COVID vaccine. 

“We sent a letter, all the eight superintendents in the region … to the governor,” Birnbohm explained. “We joined dozens of other superintendents across the state, imploring [Gov. Phil Murphy] to immediately reevaluate the mask mandate  and social distance mandate, because the great majority of us, especially in a school setting, we’re eligible for the vaccine and our district has done a tremendous job to get them.”

Medford resident Nicole Stouffer, who said she is a medical biostatistician, then argued to the board that because masks are under emergency authorized use from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), they should be defined as medical products.

“You’re telling kids and forcing them to wear a medical product in school,” she said. “You’re not equipped to do this and apply this device to children. No matter what the push from (Gov.) Murphy is, it’s your responsibility, not his.”

Birnbohm closed the public comment section of the board meeting by letting residents know the district believes masks should be optional for students, given the state’s vaccination level and the decline in Burlington County COVID cases. Board members expressed hope that those statistics will result in different guidance on the face coverings.

In other news:

  • The board approved sending district staffers to AP summer training and for Lenape to host a foreign exchange student for the 2021-2022 school year. 
  • The district can have athletic teams start practice on Aug. 9, in accordance with NJSIAA and Olympic Conference guidelines.
  • The board also approved practices for summer activities, including baseball, NJROTC and the marching band. 
  • A motion was passed to approve the Cherokee NJROTC field trip to the New York Military Academy on June 25, and to hold the Lenape Leadership Academy from July 26 to 28.

The next board session will be on July 21 at Seneca High School, starting at 7:30 p.m. For more information on COVID communication within the district, go to  https://www.lrhsd.org/Domain/1303