Lakota rules masks are mandatory for students, teachers when school begins this week

Lakota School Board members listen to community members voicing their concerns on masking versus not masking students for the upcoming school year during a meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 5, 2021 at Lakota Plains Junior School. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Lakota School Board members listen to community members voicing their concerns on masking versus not masking students for the upcoming school year during a meeting Thursday morning, Aug. 5, 2021 at Lakota Plains Junior School. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Southwest Ohio’s largest suburban school system today changed its previous stance on masks and will now require its 16,800-students to wear them when classes for the new school year begin later this week.

According to emailed announcements sent this afternoon to Lakota School parents, all students, teachers and school staffers in the Butler County school system masks were no longer optional – the district’s previous position - but now mandatory for the new school year, which starts later this week.

And Warren County’s largest school system - the 10,300-student Mason Schools - also announced its adopting a mandatory student mask policy for some of its grades.

Lakota officials cited federal, state and county health officials’ recent recommendations to make protective face coverings mandatory for all school-age children – pre-kindergarten to 12th grade – in the wake of a recent spike in the number of positive cases of the coronavirus variant locally, statewide and nationally.

The masks, said school officials, are required of all in the district’s 22 school buildings regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

“We want our students to stay in school, in person,” wrote Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller in a statement sent to school parents.

“Medical professionals have shared with us that masks add an extra layer of protection, even for vaccinated individuals. By requiring face coverings, our staff and students will not only help protect one another from spreading the virus, but they will also be able to stay in school and avoid quarantine if they are identified as a close contact to a positive case,” said Miller.

He said the decision, which follows last week’s rare joint public plea by area city and county health officials for mandatory masking of all school children, is “based on the advice of medical experts, the increasing numbers of positive COVID cases among children in our county and stringent in-school quarantine protocols.”

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Miller also cited the results of a recent school parent survey by Lakota on the issue of masking.

“We understand that requiring versus strongly recommending face coverings in school is a very controversial topic. In fact, the survey results confirm this.”

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“With over 6,800 responses from parents and students: 49% believe that face coverings should be optional for all grades; 48% believe that face coverings should be required for all or some grades: 33% believe that face coverings should be required for all grades; 15% believe that face coverings should be required for grades K-6 and optional for grades 7-12 and 3% are unsure.”

Masks for students on school buses was already a mandated policy for Lakota and all other Ohio public school buses.

Lakota now joins the region’s largest school district, Cincinnati Public Schools, in requiring masks be worn indoors by all students, teachers and staffers. Other area districts are expected to also soon switch from an optional mask policy to a mandatory one.

“We know that our parents want what is best for their own children. So do we. Please discuss any possible medical exemptions for face coverings with your building administrator,” said Miller.

“We will closely monitor the numbers of positive COVID cases in our schools and our community, and will adjust our protocols, including face coverings, as needed.”

Miller added: “We want our students to stay in school. We want to limit exposure to COVID-19. We do not want to quarantine close contacts. In order to do this, we need to mask up.”

Mason Schools Spokeswoman Tracey Carson released a statement shortly after Lakota’s announcement stating the district will require masks for students in grades pre-kindergarten through 6th.

“Masks provide a layer of protection that help keep students safe and out of quarantine. In alignment with our public health experts, we strongly recommend that middle school and high school students wear masks while indoors, particularly for those who are unvaccinated,” said Carson.

The new policy will impact 5,050 Mason students in pre-K to 6th grades.

“Mason Middle School and Mason High School will not mandate masks unless there are rising levels of positive cases and subsequent quarantines that would necessitate making mask-wearing a requirement,” she said.