PASD elementary desk shield

The desk shields at the Punxsutawney Elementary School used last year, and that will be re-installed soon to allow for mask breaks while in class.

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Area School District addressed the use of Heritage Family Health, PC exemption letters in an announcement to the PASD community on Wednesday.

In the letter, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Lesniewski announced the school would not be accepting the Heritage Family Health mask exemption letters because there is nothing of substance in the letter to show the child was actually evaluated by the health facility.

Heritage Family Health PC is a primary care office located in Newmanstown, Pennsylvania that is offering sweeping letters for school mask exemptions, with a form available at the top of its website.

In the letter, Dr. Joel Yeager cites a number of possible health concerns that “have been noted in wearing facemasks,” but it is notable that two of his sources have been retracted, and a third was deleted.

When the letters were first sent to the district beginning on Sept. 6, they were initially accepted. After taking a closer look, the district made the decision they could not accept the HFH letters as a valid exemption letter.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health permits exemptions “if wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.” The PA Department of Education recommends exemptions be in accordance with eligibility under the Rehabilitation Act or IDEA for such medical or mental health condition or disability.

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The Punxsutawney Area School District noted in their letter to parents that the letter from HFH shows no signs of the student’s having been examined for any specific medical condition that would qualify for an exemption.

“Nothing in the letter from Heritage Family Health, other than giving the student’s name and birthdate at the beginning of it, indicates that Heritage Family Health has examined the particular child or gives any diagnosis for this child. A generic conclusion at the end of Heritage Family Health’s letter that the parents ‘are claiming a valid medical exemption for the child named above,’ is not the acceptable medical substantiation from a qualified medical professional that would give the school district reason to proceed to determine whether reasonable accommodations need to be made for a child whose medical condition precludes wearing a face covering,” the school’s letter said.

The school board did approve allowing students to have mask breaks when at their desks, working alone, and using district supplied desk shields. The district installed clear desk shields on many of the desks last year to help contain cases. Following the mask mandate and discussion, the district decided to re-install these desk shields to help with mask breaks.

The shields will be installed in both the elementary school and high school per the board’s directive.

“Please be patient as this process will be expedited as soon as possible,” Dr. Lesniewski said in the letter.

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