Dozens attend Lakota board meeting to debate mask mandates: What they said

Community members voiced their concerns on masking versus not masking students for the upcoming school year during a Lakota Schools Board of Education meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 5, 2021 at Lakota Plains Junior School. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Community members voiced their concerns on masking versus not masking students for the upcoming school year during a Lakota Schools Board of Education meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 5, 2021 at Lakota Plains Junior School. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

School board president: ‘We know there is no easy answer. We agonize over both sides of this issue.’

A packed Lakota school board meeting Thursday saw school system residents split – sometimes passionately – on whether students should be required to wear masks during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as 16,800 students prep to return to classes in less than two weeks.

Lakota’s current policy is masks are optional for students.

But minutes before the rare 9 a.m. school board meeting began, officials at Miami University, which is Butler County’s largest employer, changed its previous optional mask policy and announced students starting fall semester later this month will have to wear masks while indoors.

And Cincinnati Public Schools, southwest Ohio’s largest school system, announced this week its students will also have to wear masks indoors.

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Lakota school parent Sarah Webster urged the board not to mandate masks, saying her children and others suffered last school year by having to wear masks throughout most of the school day.

“Their hopes last year were squashed. They have already lost so much. Please let it end,” said Webster.

But another school parent – Heather Cameron – told the board: “How can our students learn in an environment when they know they risk getting coronavirus due to an unmasked student?”

The debate over masks has reignited as the number of positive coronavirus cases continues a spike in recent weeks as local, state and national medical officials blame the now more prevalent variant of the virus for the sharp rise.

Lakota Board of Education President Kelley Casper said of the masking discussion: “We know there is no easy answer. We agonize over both sides of this issue.”

Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller said he communicates often with local and county health officials regarding the latest coronavirus infection rates and other information as part of the district’s decisions for protecting students, staffers and school families.

But, said Miller, the pandemic landscape of coronavirus is a shifting one.

“This is a very fluid situation. This decision (regarding masks) is so hard and we know the pros and cons,” Miller told the audience of more than 50 school-district residents.

He announced the district will do a new online survey of school parents to assess their thoughts on mask usage.

The board took no action and Miller said he plans to meet with area medical officials on Friday for the latest updates.

In other Lakota school board news, member Brad Lovell earlier this week announced he will not seek re-election this fall.

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Lovell, who recently was hired as the business director for Sycamore Schools in northern Hamilton County, was not at Thursday’s board meeting due to a work scheduling conflict.