Masks in schools: As one district removes masks in classrooms, what’s the status in Butler County?

Ohio K-12 students required to wear masks to school

While one southwest Ohio school district has seen its officials choose to defy state health mandates requiring masks for students, none in Butler or Warren county have announced they are doing the same.

Some local school officials said Wednesday that, while having students and school staffers wear masks is not ideal, all those in schools have adjusted through the school year to wearing them.

The Blanchester Public Schools board of education voted Monday night to relax its masking rules, directly contradicting the Ohio Department of Health’s masking requirements for educational settings, according to reporting from Journal-News media partner WCPO-TV.

Explore‘It seems blatantly illegal’: Southwest Ohio school district defies state rules, pulls back mask requirements

Currently, the state of Ohio requires students to wear masks in and outside during school functions. Exemptions can be granted for health or religious reasons, eating and drinking, or participating in sports, among other reasons.

Blanchester’s board voted to immediately allow students and staff to remove their masks outdoors and on buses with a window open. On June 1, the district will also allow students and staff to remove masks indoors.

But the Ohio Education Association, a statewide teachers union, has questions, WCPO-TV reported.

“Why this? Why now?” said OEA president Scott DiMauro on Tuesday. “Why not continue to follow the state and the CDC and the medical community’s clear guidance?

“It seems blatantly illegal, but it’s also just poor judgment. There is still significant spread of COVID.”

Blanchester Superintendent Dean Lynch warned the board of the potential for negative reactions before Monday night’s vote that such an action would be in defiance of state and Clinton County health officials’ orders, put the Blanchester Schools at risk for litigation claiming an unsafe work environment for school staffers and draw negative media attention.

Board member Jeremy Kaehler disagreed and voted in favor the policy change.

“What we’ve been hearing is, people are fed up,” he said. “They’re sick of the mask policy. We’ve had some people who have expressed concerns about their child’s health over the mask policy, parents who want their kids in school but don’t want their kids to be forced to wear a mask.”

Some families in the area backed him up.

“They’re always constantly thinking about that mask on their face, pushing it down,” said Jackie Blevins, who has 16 grandchildren in Blanchester schools. “And, you know, they’re pulling on it all the time. So, what good does it do?”

The OEA said the district should wait on the state to change guidelines.

“What problem are they trying to solve here?” said DiMauro. “We know that masks have worked to contain the spread of the virus throughout the year. We are getting closer to the end of the school year. This will be an opportunity to reassess the situation locally and statewide.”

Only one board member, Kathy Gephart, voted against the policy change. She said she would prefer to follow the medical community’s advice.

Locally, school officials continue to follow state guidelines and said while their was an initial adjustment period earlier in the school year, the mask mandate has been adopted successfully.

“At the beginning of the school year, our safety plan included required masks for all students K-12 and all staff,” said Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for Middletown Schools.

“We have not changed our safety plan, so we continue to wear masks and keep one another safe and healthy. And our students, from the itty bitty Middies to our high school students, have come to school every day in their masks without issue,” said Beadle.

Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota Schools, said during a recent online chat with school parents he hoped the coming school year will see the need for masks disappear as the coronavirus fades.

“My goal and hope is that we come back in normal conditions in August,” said Miller.

Journal-News media partner WCPO-TV contributed to this report

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