BARNEGAT – William “Chip” Junker, president of the Barnegat Educational Association, filed two separate complaints against four members of the education board who did not wear their masks at the board meeting in August.
According to Junker, his complaints allege that unmasked board members violated the governor’s decrees by not wearing masks in a school building. He filed one of the complaints with the Barnegat Police Department and the other with the state’s website.
“It will be up to the attorney general’s office to review the case and press charges,” Junker said. “I just filed the complaints.
School board vice president Richard Quelch and members Alicia Bivins, Sandra Churney and Robert Sawicki wore no masks when they first took their seats on stage at the Barnegat High School theater. They remained unmasked for the duration of the meeting.
Junker called the meeting and praised the district for its actions in keeping staff members and students healthy last year. He then went on to address the fact that board members do not wear masks.
“By making this political statement tonight, the four board members only made the job of administration and staff more difficult when all staff and students return,” Junker said. “… We set an example here in Barnegat. “
School board president Sean O’Brien wrote to Gov. Phil Murphy last month asking that decisions about masks be left to the discretion of local districts. He cited Barnegat’s use of a data matrix to make decisions about virtual and in-person learning. O’Brien suggested the same information would be used in testing and PPE requirements.
Meanwhile, O’Brien has decided that he personally intends to follow what he understands as the rules.
“Of course everyone finds the masks uncomfortable,” O’Brien shared. “But as the leader of the school board, I don’t think it would be fair for me to ask staff and students to wear one if I can’t for a few hours in a meeting.”
“I have also heard from many families who support Governor Murphy’s tenure,” said O’Brien. “Their voices cannot be ignored either. We want to do our best to keep the neighborhood safe and open. “
Two of the four board members who went without masks responded to requests for comment after the meeting.
Quelch criticized those who jumped on what he dubbed the “bandwagon” for calling him disrespectful for not asking him first why he chose not to wear a mask.
“I made sure I was legally allowed to participate without a mask,” Quelch explained. “I didn’t come just to disrespect anyone. It was to show solidarity with all those who are against wearing a mask, like me.
“I personally feel horrible for all those students, staff and families in this neighborhood who are upset that they wear a mask all day and don’t know what the long term effects of wearing a mask are on their health. physical, mental and social, ”Quelch continued. “I’ve been in the customer service industry for 30 years, and seeing faces is necessary to learn and socialize properly in life to be successful.”
When asked if he had sought legal advice regarding his claim that he could legally attend the meeting without a mask, Quelch responded by text saying: different from schools.
The text message went on to say that school boards are more of a governing body and that unless there is a mandate that requires masks indoors, they do not need to be worn when meetings.
School board attorney Martin Buckley said he initially thought he could make a legal argument that the board meeting did not take place during school hours. However, this is no longer the case.
Executive Order 253 went further than previous mandates. Governor Murphy signed this order the day before the council meeting.
“It makes things a little bit clearer,” Buckley explained. “Masks are mandatory whenever you are in a school building, not just when school is in session.”
Buckley confirmed that Governor’s Orders are warrants that act like laws. Board member Sawicki still opposes it and explained the reasons for his lack of a mask at the meeting.
“It was my choice to show token support as an individual and as a taxpayer to administrators, teachers and especially children, who are forced to wear it against their will and belief,” Sawicki said. “We stood up for students, teachers and administrators, who feel the same. I think wearing a mask should be an individual choice. “
Sawicki said that by going without a mask he was not putting anyone in danger. He is vaccinated and described his seat as more than double the “recommended” distance from the next person on stage.
“Once elected, I was elected to stand up and be everyone’s voice,” Sawicki concluded.
Two other council members wore masks while expressing their opposition to them. George Fedorczyk physically left the stage to speak on the podium during the public part of the meeting. Fedorczyk made it clear that he was not speaking as a board member when he said parents need to make decisions about wearing the mask.
“You might be surprised how many people here are supportive of not having masks,” board member Michael Hickey said from the scene. “Our community seems to think it’s the right body that can change this mandate. The problem is, we can’t.
Hickey said each member of the board of directors and the district as a whole must abide by the decrees and laws of the governor, the legislature and the Supreme Court.
“If we don’t, everyone here is in danger for one thing or another,” Hickey explained. “If we don’t enforce mask mandates in schools, teachers or administrators can lose their certifications. “
“Board members can be sued and face up to six months in prison and a $ 1,000 fine,” Hickey continued. “For those of us who are state or federal employees, we also risk losing our security clearances and other things that exist.”
Hickey concluded his statement by saying he supported those against the mask mandates, but suggested they take their fight where they can make a difference.
“You have to somehow come before the governor – whether it’s protests, whether it’s lawsuits, whether it’s the Supreme Court, whether it’s contacting state lawmakers – your members of the assembly or your senators, ”Hickey said. “… I have a lot of ideas on this, and I will tell you about it as a private citizen after the meeting.” “
State and local health professionals have called for the use of masks in school, as those vaccinated can still carry the virus. They may not even show symptoms and can still transmit COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, masks have been found to protect other people from any possible viruses you might not know you have, in addition to protecting you from other people.