A Bucks County judge is expected to rule in an ongoing dispute over public records related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northampton Township resident Megan Brock is seeking to obtain records from Bucks County government that the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records previously said she was entitled to. However, the county government used their right to appeal to bring the case before Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Denise Bowman for further consideration.
On Thursday morning, Brock, represented by conservative organization Judicial Watch and their locally-hired attorney J. Chadwick Schnee, and county attorney Keith Bidlingmaier were in a Doylestown Borough courtroom for a short hearing on the matter.
Reporting from the Bucks County Courier Times and Delaware Valley Journal said Brock’s attorney told the court the county failed to turn over information that she was entitled to see, while county-government said they turned over all the requested records and the government is exempt from turning over some pre-decision records and those that fall under attorney-client privilege.
Bowman did not issue a decision from the bench and is expected to issue a written decision at some point in the future.
“I am here today and I am excited to see what happens with our ruling and I hope that Bucks County can finally have the transparency it deserves and that we can have some answers on what happened to our children,” Brock said after the court hearing.
Brock and Jamie Walker, of New Britain Township, both have been vocal critics of the county government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation guidance for schools. They have aligned themselves with conservative figures, including State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who have been opposed to the pandemic mitigation measures. The duo have gain notoriety for their fight to get to the bottom of records related to the August 2021 Bucks County Health Department guidance for schools that changed several times.
Brock and Walker both have strongly called on county government to explain their actions. At past events, the duo have said the Democratic-majority commissioners “overruled” Bucks County Health Department Director David Damsker’s guidance.
Walker said a ruling against Brock in the Right-To-Know appeal could make the state less transparent. She said it is important the two parent activists receive the records because they want to know exactly what went into the August 2021 change in COVID-19 mitigation guidance.
Brock and Walker have filed dozens of Right-To-Know requests with county government since 2021 and are presently involved in several appeal cases. They have already received thousands of emails and other records that were produced by county employees, but they believe the records they don’t have will give them more insight into the decision to alter the guidance.
Public statements and public records have indicated a call from medical doctors to Damsker raising alarm that severe pediatric COVID-19 cases could overwhelm children’s hospitals in the region was a driving factor for the August 2021 guidance change. Additionally, emails uncovered and a letter obtained by this news organization showed then-Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam sent the Bucks County Commissioners and top leaders a letter asking them to update county schools’ guidance to better conform with state and federal guidance, but Brock and Walker believe there is more to it than that.
After consultation with school officials, Damsker advised school districts they didn’t have to require masks and could change quarantine policy when the 2021-2022 school year began. At the time, cases were low in the county, mitigation measures were well-known, and hospitals were able to manage patients levels. Following the mid-August 2021 phone call with regional hospital officials and after initial guidance was released, Damsker then recommended following the CDC guidance that called for masking.
However, the county’s guidance would be paused just before classes resumed as the state health department issued a mandate for masking of students across the state. The statewide school masking policy was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in December.
Once the court overturned the statewide policy, Damsker’s office didn’t issue a firm mask mandate and school districts have entirely made their own policies in the years since.
State Sen. Jarrett Coleman, a Republican representing parts of Upper Bucks County and Lehigh County, was at the post-hearing press conference. He said it is important all records are released so it can be determined what happened with COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Coleman said he wants the state to learn from the pandemic and handle future emergencies better.
A Bucks County spokesperson declined comment on the pending appeal.