Indian River High School

The Indian River School Board overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Governor John Carney's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and announcement of a statewide school mask mandate.

Meeting inside Indian River High School's football stadium so attendees would not have to wear masks, Superintendent Jay Owens told a skeptical board that they would be following directives issued by Governor Carney and Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, but then James Fritz started playing devil's advocate.

"Did they dictate or list any of the medical conditions would waive or allow a student to wear a mask, or did they just say specifically say medical conditions?"

The Centers for Disease Control website said "most people with underlying medical conditions can and should wear masks," and also has recommendations for those who require the ability to read lips.

Superintendent Owens did not give Fritz a detailed answer.

"Any note that we receive, we would analyze in the same manor that we would previously for students who would receive services and analyze for mask mandate as well."

Since Delaware is currently in a Public Health Emergency instead of a State of Emergency, specific directives are issued by leads of various organizations.

In the case of schools, it is Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting, whose order that went into effect on August 16, 2021 for a period of 120 days said "persons who have a medical condition or disability that prevents that person from wearing a mask can request a reasonable accommodation from the child care facility."

There is no detail on what a "reasonable accommodation" would mean in this case.

Following that discussion, fellow board member Dr. Donald Hattier, a chiropractor, spoke.

"They're looking at one item, the masks, and they're not considering the secondary items at all. Since we are under very strong duress to do what the government has dictated, and that's what it is, a dictation, I'd like to make a motion that we have a vote of no confidence, and ask that his minions study and fix what he is creating."

That line drew loud applause from the assembled crowd in the stadium.

Hattier was then asked if his no confidence was for Carney in general, or strictly the mask mandate.

"I'm talking about the mask mandate, and the fact he is absolutely not considering the secondary condition. They are treating this as a zero-sum game, where the disease is everything, and it isn't."

The vote went 9-1, with only Gerald Peden voting against the vote of no confidence. Boos over Peden's vote were heard from the crowd, but board members, including Hattier and Fritz, jumped in quickly to stop them, saying "Don't boo, he's got a reason. I get it, that's what makes America great."

Tuesday night, WDEL spoke with Hattier about what he thinks the vote will mean going forward.

"The mask mandate, as defined by the Governor, is more than likely going to stay in effect. I do not believe he will respond to our vote of no confidence other than to say 'noted' and move on."

A spokesman for Governor Carney had no comment on the board's vote.

"Because of the responses I get back when Dr. Rattay chooses to answer them. I am assuming she represents his decisions. I would be happier if we had an intelligent conversation among the public among everybody about what really is an endemic type item that will keep coming back," said Hattier.

The vote came after a 45-minute public comment period, with the overwhelming majority of the speakers going against the mandate, with one person in support of masks saying they were in favor of choice.

It was the latest in a series of Delaware school board meetings this month where the majority of public comment periods have been community members and parents venting to school boards over their issues with the mandate.

Indian River was the first board to both pass a "no confidence" vote, plus also say they will actively position the Governor for change.

Hattier said he wouldn't be surprised if this is just the start of school boards speaking out.

"I talked to another school board president earlier today, and with our vote, I wouldn't be surprised if more boards decided to do this. Maybe yes, maybe no, we'll see. But if nothing else, I certainly made a statement I don't have confidence in them, and it's public."

Hattier said he had a message to those who applauded the no confidence vote Monday night.

"The message from me would be, I understand where you're coming from, I get there this is going with it, and the only thing that I can do is I do not have confidence in what the government is doing. You have to get it out there, otherwise I'm still bound by the same force of law to do whatever they want us to do. I'm agreeing with the people, and hopefully someone will pay more attention."

Indian River School District students begin filling classrooms after Labor Day.