BOYERTOWN — A member of the Boyertown Area School District's COVID-19 pandemic task force has resigned, and has been fired from a job with Lehigh Valley Health Network after downplaying the danger of the disease during virtual meetings Wednesday with school district staff.
Both district officials and officials from the health network declined to identify the individual. District officials also declined to share the content of the comments, however LVHN officials indicated they contained anti-mask sentiment.
According to a message from Boyertown acting Superintendent Marybeth Torchia sent Wednesday to district staff members and parents, the comments were made during a pair of faculty meetings that took place earlier that day.
The message says the district has been utilizing a pandemic task force, a group of volunteers from within the district and community, to discuss COVID-19 issues related to education. The task force meets weekly and serves in an advisory role to the district's administration.
Torchia's message said that, prior to Wednesday, task force members "have not shown any indication of strong personal biases related to COVID-19."
But on Wednesday, the message said, that changed when members of the task force were invited to take part in weekly faculty meetings, one with elementary staff and one with secondary staff.
"Soon after today’s meetings, we learned that one of the team members left members of our faculty and, in turn, members of our community concerned for the well-being of our learning community due to their personal views regarding the risks associated with this virus," the message said.
When asked to provide details about the personal views in question — including the identity of the person who shared them — district officials declined to comment.
An employee who attended one of the meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the the task force member in question was David Blalock who, until this week, was listed on the school district's website as a member of the task force.
Blalock's name was not on the list of members of the pandemic task force as of Friday, but the introduction indicated the task force members include a "respiratory therapist." None of the members currently listed has that specialty.
Blalock's LinkedIn profile lists his employment as a "registered respiratory therapist at Lehigh Valley Health Network."
The Boyertown schools employee who heard Blalock speak said that his comments downplayed the threat of COVID-19.
The employee recounted that Blalock said that he works in the health care field around people with COVID-19 and has not gotten ill, indicating that school employees have nothing to worry about.
The employee said that the comments led to employees contacting one another and expressing their concern and dismay about what was said.
The employee also said that after the comments were made, Torchia spoke and said that the district is not trying to downplay the virus.
While not repeating the claims or identifying who made them, Torchia's message to staff and parents likewise said the opinions shared by the volunteer do not represent the views of the task force or the district — and that the person who shared them has left the task force.
"This individual has been nothing but professional, voluntarily giving of their time and knowledge, has made valuable suggestions to the team and, until today, kept personal views to themselves," the message said. "I have spoken with this individual and shared the response to the comments from some members of our community."
Torchia explained that the volunteer was apologetic and "graciously stepped down from the Pandemic Task Force."
Torchia's message goes on to apologize for the incident.
"I would like to apologize for the impact today’s words had on members of our learning community," she wrote. "My commitment to the health and safety of our students and staff remains firm. It does not waiver."
Brian Downs, a spokesman for the Lehigh Valley Health Network, said Friday that the individual involved in the task force incident had been a network employee. He would not verify the name of the individual.
Downs shared a network statement that thanked the Boyertown community for exposing the individual's actions.
"Thank you to the community for bringing inappropriate and misleading behavior to our attention," it read. "We have terminated an individual for alleged statements and opinions about masks that do not reflect the position of the health network and ignore science and vital public health actions we must all take to protect our community from COVID-19."
The statement goes on to say that LVHN "emphatically" supports critical measures in the fight against COVID-19 such as wearing face masks.
"This individual’s statements go against everything LVHN upholds as our mission and values," the statement said. "We provide advanced and compassionate health care of superior quality and value supported by education and clinical research. You can rest assured that this behavior is not and will not be tolerated."
Mercury Staff Writer Evan Brandt contributed to this article