Masking up, while quarantining is down in Greencastle-Antrim schools

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Numbers related to COVID-19 have changed significantly in the Greencastle-Antrim School District in the past week, but they don't involve cases of the coronavirus.

Attendance rose by hundreds of students on Friday, Sept. 3, as the result of contact tracing, quarantine and isolation changes to the district's health and safety plan approved the night before by the school board.

Students in Marci Stover's English class at Greencastle-Antrim High School wear masks in compliance with the Pennsylvania Department of Health order that went into effect Sept. 7 mandating them in all K-12 schools, as well as on buses.

"It's good to have the kids back. It's good for the teachers, it's good for the kids, it's good for everyone," Dr. Ed Rife, executive director for secondary education, said Tuesday, Sept. 7.

And while 30% of students wore face coverings on the first day of school under the district's policy of making masks optional, but highly recommended, 95% came masked on Tuesday in response to a Pennsylvania Department of Health mandate.

Health and safety plan

"My greatest request tonight is we get these students back in school," Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, said Thursday before the board approved her recommended changes to the health and safety plan.

At that time, there were 35 students positive for COVID-19 and 344 students —11.5% of the district's enrollment — were in quarantine as a result of contact tracing under the district's health and safety plan. However, just .02% were possible school-related transmissions.

Among those quarantined was eighth-grader Ava Grosskreutz, who attended the meeting with her mother, Becky Grosskreutz, president of the Franklin County chapter of Moms for Liberty. She said her daughter was healthy but missing a lot of school.

Becky Grosskreutz spoke against masks and about quarantining and read a statement by her daughter, Ava, a Greencastle-Antrim Middle School eighth-grader, on the same topics at the Sept. 2 Greencastle-Antrim School Board meeting.

She also read a statement Ava wrote, in which the middle-schooler agreed she is healthy and that quarantining is hard because her teachers aren't there to help her in person, and her mom's not very good at middle school math.

During the 2020-21 school year, there were 167 positive cases among students, eight possibly school-related, for a transmission rate of .05%. Hanks said 1,325 students were impacted by "close contact" guidelines last year, had to quarantine and were "sitting at home healthy."

This slide shows COVID-19 case and quarantine data for the 2020-21 school year in the Greencastle-Antrim School District.

In addition, administrators have been spending hours a day doing contact tracing and contacting families, meaning less time to focus on education, Hanks said.

The majority of positive cases come from the home.

"Students and staff members (unvaccinated) who live with someone who is positive will have to quarantine under the revised health and safety plan. Students and staff experiencing symptoms also should stay home," the plan says.

This slide shows the new contract tracing, isolation and quarantine guidelines adopted Sept. 2 to amend the Greencastle-Antrim School District's health and safety plan.

However, those with "close contact" within 3 feet of someone who tests positive, will have to wear a face covering indoors for 14 days, but won't be required to quarantine.

Mask mandate

Having to wear a mask after "close contact" is currently a moot point under the mandate announced last week by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Health requiring masks in all K-12 schools and on buses.

It was a point of discussion at the school board meeting, as opponents continued to speak out against masking; Hanks said the mandate came without warning and created "a whole lot of head spinning"; and board members talked about being stuck between a rock and a hard place concerning enforcement.

Parent Christina Hebron referenced the Pennsylvania Constitution, saying all power is inherent in the people.

"I ask that you choose freedom tonight and keep masks optional," Hebron said.

Greencastle-Antrim Middle School eighth-grader Mariyah Hebron and her mother, Christina, both spoke against masks at the Sept. 2 Greencastle-Antrim School Board meeting.

Her daughter, Mariyah, an eighth-grader, also stood before the microphone. She said she was sharing her own opinion, not her mother's.

"I feel we should have freedom to choose what's best for us, and I'm talking individually," Mariyah said. "If you're not sick, there's no need to wear it."

"We can't ignore the governor's order," Hanks said. The district will go along with the mask mandate and is gathering legal opinions about the failure to comply and other enforcement issues.

"It's too new to make a rash decision," Hanks said.

"The mandate has tied our hands," said board member Tracy Baer. She said the school board as a whole and she personally are "working to figure out our rights."

Following the order

On Friday, Hanks sent out a message telling parents the health and safety plan was changed to reflect "the need to keep our healthy children in school" and that the district would be enforcing the state masking order when students returned to school Tuesday after the long Labor Day weekend.

"As public school employees, we are required to comply and enforce this mandate. We kindly ask that you help us navigate this quick shift and understand that we will have to develop processes for enforcement as well as for exemptions. We will be quick to adapt as needed and revise to make this process more manageable for all," Hanks wrote.

"Please understand that this decision is a state mandate and not the decision of school district employees. We ask that you recognize that individual teachers and GASD staff are required to enforce the mandate, regardless of personal beliefs," Hanks continued. "Our school administrators will work with students to address masking issues so as to keep any conflict or uncomfortable situation outside of the academic classroom setting."

She noted students who had mask exemptions last year now automatically have them this year. Her message also included a link to the exemption form.

The small percentage of students who arrived at school without masks Tuesday also were given exemption forms.

The district is starting to receive completed forms, said Rife, adding everyone has been very cooperative.

"I appreciate being in a community where everyone cooperates and works together and doesn't put kids in the middle," Rife said. "I know we're blessed to be in Greencastle today because it's not like that everywhere."

Legal challenge

During the school board discussion, Hanks said she's heard the issue will have to be settled in court and the first legal challenge was filed Friday.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman,a Centre County Republican, and other plaintiffs say the Wolf administration's order to wear masks in schools is not valid and is an overreach of authority. 

In addition to Corman, the plaintiffs include Rep. Jesse Topper, a Republican whose district includes Mercersburg and Montgomery, Peters and Warren townships in Franklin County, as well as all of Fulton County and part of Bedford County; two Christian schools; and parents in three public school districts: Butler Area and Slippery Rock Area in Butler County and Wyomissing Area in Berks County. 

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Tom King, lead attorney for Dillon, McCandless, King, Coulter, & Graham LLP, said in a news release the complaint was filed "against Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam to deny the imposition of draconian, unlawful mask mandates that are harming children across Pennsylvania."

He continued, "We are arguing before the Court that Acting Secretary Beam does not have the authority to issue such a mandate under the Disease Prevention and Control Act. Since there is no authority under Pennsylvania law to keep students out of school, Secretary Beam is trampling on the rights of school children and their parents as she denies them the right to attend school in person. This type of regulatory overreach cannot stand in a free country.”

The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction against the masking order, and a hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.

For more

The updated health and safety plan, the YouTube video of the meeting and other information can be found at the school district website,

Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at

Candy Woodall, a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau, contributed to this story.