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‘Their lives have been flipped upside down’: School mask debate brings parents to online forum

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dayton approves mandatory mask rule

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Lakota school parents peppered Superintendent Matt Miller with questions Wednesday on how Butler County’s largest district would open the new school year next month under the threat of the coronavirus.

More than 525 watched as Miller held a virtual community forum after the 16,800-student district’s recent decision to require all students to wear masks when they return to classes Aug. 13.

It’s a scene being played out now or soon across Butler County and in all of Ohio’s 613 public school systems as officials gather feedback from school parents on what will be one of the most historically unusual back-to-school seasons in decades.

ExploreMORE: Lakota considering 4 plans for school opening: Here’s what they would do

Miller warned viewers of his Facebook Live chat to brace themselves for even more changes.

The district’s plans, said Miller, “will change three or four times before the start of school,” as new local, state and federal mandates in the battle to thwart the coronavirus continue to be issued.

“But I’m hoping that by Aug. 1 it will all be locked in,” he said.

Regardless, the goal remains the same, said Miller.

“We want our kids back (in school) as much as possible and in a safe manner,” he said.

Lakota’s decision to require student masks — combined with state officials’ orders this week for all Butler County residents to wear masks when they can’t keep social distance — has added to the issue’s contentiousness among some.

The district is the largest suburban school system in southwest Ohio and has the ninth biggest enrollment among all districts in the state.

ExploreMORE: Masks to be required in public throughout Butler County: What to know

“I know it (masks) are very polarizing. We are still fleshing this out for what (wearing) masks will look like for our younger students,” Miller said.

He added his district is sensitive to the historically unique turmoil caused by the coronavirus, which forced Ohio officials to shut down all K-12 schools in March.

For school children, “their lives have been flipped upside down.”

Lakota school parent Kathleen Sevilla Strack said she appreciated Miller and other district officials efforts in being transparent through its back-to-school process.

“I understand this is a fluid situation, but with the start of school nearing there are still so many unknowns. I think parents and teachers at all levels still have a lot of unanswered questions, which I hope will be clarified in the coming days and weeks,” said Strack.

Lakota Board of Education Vice President Kelley Casper watched the online forum and praised Miller’s real-time, responsiveness to dozens of widely varied questions typed in by viewers.

Casper said the required wearing of masks continues to be high-interest issue among school families.

“As far as masks we are hearing from parents on both ends of the spectrum. Some that want their kids to wear them and some that do not,” said Casper, who added district officials are basing their decisions on medical advice, rather than publicly elected officials.

“We relied on health experts and scientists to make our decision and not politicians,” she said.

For more information, Lakota officials urged parents to go to the district's website.