Local schools face mask decisions amid new COVID guidance: Here’s what they’re saying

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The CDC still recommends unvaccinated students and teachers wear masks in school

One month before K-12 schools start to open, some local districts have announced that masks will be optional, while others are still studying COVID protocols before making a decision.

Guidance last week from the Centers for Disease Control said vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, but unvaccinated people should continue to wear them indoors.

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COVID vaccines are not approved for children under 12 yet, meaning most elementary school students would have to wear masks to follow the CDC recommendations.

Locally, Mad River and Springboro schools both said this week that masks will not be required.

“For the upcoming school year, face coverings will be optional for all grade levels,” Springboro schools spokesman Scott Marshall said. “This, of course, could change pending any future guidance from state or county health departments.”

Troy, Centerville and Northmont schools said they have not made final decisions on how to proceed with COVID health and safety protocols.

“We are still monitoring the situation, as we learned from last year that things can continue to change over the summer,” Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas said. “We are reviewing a wealth of information.”

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Milton-Union schools in Miami County are recommending masks for unvaccinated staff members and students, but it is not a requirement. Superintendent Brad Ritchey said he hopes formal guidance comes soon.

“We will pivot to whatever requirement is put in place by the Ohio Department of Health and Miami County Public Health,” he said. “Our understanding is that the local health department is still waiting on guidance in several areas.”

A Beavercreek High School teacher works with students on Oct. 8, 2020.
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A Beavercreek High School teacher works with students on Oct. 8, 2020.

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While the CDC guidance last week was an update, local and state agencies have not been as active on the issue, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

“I checked with the Ohio Department of Health and the governor’s office just to confirm, and … there are no orders or rules currently in place pertaining to COVID-19 safety in schools, and no official guidance has been issued at this time,” said ODE spokeswoman Mandy Minick.

Local schools will be in-person this fall, just as nearly all of them were by late spring 2021. Northmont, Kettering and a handful of other schools will start during the week of Aug. 9-13, while dozens of schools go back to class the week of Aug. 16-20. Mad River is among a few that start back Sept. 7.

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Asked about any COVID guidance they are providing, Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County confirmed Monday that, “We do not have anything for schools at this time.” Greene and Warren County health officials both said Tuesday that they had passed along the new CDC guidance to schools, but had not gone beyond that.

Dustin Ratliff, emergency preparedness coordinator for Warren County Public Health, said he expects to meet with school leaders in a few weeks.

“We’re cautiously optimistic because (COVID) case numbers remain very low in Warren County,” Ratliff said. “This time last year, were having cases from high school teams, and we’re not hearing that now.”

More than 20,000 people have died from COVID in Ohio and more than 60,000 have been hospitalized, according to ODH. Ten of those deaths and over 1,600 of the hospitalizations have come from people age 0-19.

Both new COVID cases and new deaths in the U.S. were near a 12-month low point last month. Those stats remain low, but new case numbers have begun to rise slightly in the past few weeks nationally.

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Ohio’s new case numbers are up slightly compared to two weeks ago, but remain comparatively low. Ratliff said people are still being hospitalized with COVID locally, and it’s almost entirely people who have gone unvaccinated.

The CDC recommendation for unvaccinated students to continue wearing masks raises the question of whether schools will ask families whether their children have gotten the shot. Several schools said this week that they will not ask.

“While we encourage individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we feel confident in our community members’ decision to ultimately do what is best for their family,” Springboro’s Marshall said. “The vaccine has been readily available, in a variety of places, for those wishing to receive it for quite some time.”

Troy Superintendent Chris Piper said there is one situation in which they will ask about vaccine status.

“Per CDC guidelines, we will quarantine close contacts if they are not wearing masks and cannot provide proof of vaccination,” he said. “We are not asking for that information prior to a possible quarantine situation.”

Staff Writer India Duke contributed to this report.