Voorhees parents push for optional masking during board of ed meeting

Other issues include possible quarantines, and teaching of critical race theory

The upcoming school year brings many changes that were discussed at the Voorhees Township Board of Education meeting on Aug. 30.

Board Secretary Helen Haley began the meeting by sharing updates to school  buildings that took place during the summer, including roof-tile replacements, renovations to Signal Hill’s media center, and a new security camera system paid for by grant money. Outdoor upgrades include new tennis and basketball courts at Voorhees Middle School and a renovated track.

Haley also noted that the school would provide free breakfast and lunch options for all students this year, though they are not required to accept them. Snacks also will be available to buy, but not with paper money.

“If parents want to put money in their (child’s) account, we’ll be accepting that,” she explained.

During the superintendent’s report, Acting Superintendent Michael Redfearn said the district had submitted its full-remote plan to the state for approval, as required of all districts, to be implemented during possible quarantines.

“Our plan will basically transition our students remotely from home for a full day of instruction,” Redfearn said. “That would be the easiest way to transition if we’re told to.”

Later in the meeting, board member Rachel Van Aken brought up the search for a new superintendent and suggested the district partner with a recruitment firm that specializes  in superintendent searches.

“I just want to make sure we’re going through this and having really great support,” she said.

As far as a timeline, Van Aken said a superintendent search would begin this month, with the hope of finding someone by March.

During public comments, parents voiced their disagreement with Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order requiring mask mandates in schools. Across the board, they listed different reasons for their dissent.

There were many arguments made against the mask mandates, including one grandmother’s experience developing a rash that turned into MRSA from wearing masks, and another parent’s concern that her special needs child would struggle with not being able to see other peoples’ expressions through the mask because they rely on facial expressions to understand  situations. Another parent contended that masks and vaccines are experimental and detrimental to the health of children.

Tara Edel, a mother whose daughter has cancer, questioned the scientific evidence that masks do more good than harm and shared her concern about the student’s ability to breathe while wearing a mask over seven hours. She noted different studies done about the effectiveness of masks and the dangers of breathing in carbon dioxide.

Other questions asked during the session involved whether kids would be able to quarantine if they were symptomatic but not yet positive, and whether critical race theory would be taught in the schools.

Redfearn said that with regards to critical race theory, the school would continue to teach acceptance and inclusiveness, as they have always done.

“We hear all of you and we encourage you to raise your concerns on both sides of the issue,” Board President Monica Watson said. “That being said, we do not vote as a board on whether or not masks will be worn in school. It is a mandate from the governor.

“We have no say, and I want everyone to understand that.”

The next board meeting will be on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m., and will be both in person and virtual. See https://www.voorhees.k12.nj.us/Page/89760 for the latest updates.