Less than two weeks after school started, Middletown City Schools has changed its mask-wearing policy from optional to mandatory.
Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. called it “a tough decision,” but the goal is to keep schools fully open and to protect students and staff.
A few minutes earlier, the board agreed, voting unanimously that students, staff and visitors must wear masks while in district buildings.
Styles said the district periodically will review its mask policy but will follow the guidelines from the local and state health departments.
Middletown, which started the school year on Aug. 11, implemented its mask mandate on Aug. 19. It’s the second school district in Butler County to have a mask mandate, joining Lakota, the ninth-largest district in the state with 16,800 students.
The board meeting Monday night was moved from the district’s headquarters in the City Building to a larger space at Middletown High School in anticipation of the crowd. About 50 people, mostly parents of students in the district attended, and only a few wore masks.
Meanwhile, four of the five board members (board member Michelle Novak was absent), Treasurer Randy Bertram, Styles, and the two guest presenters, Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips and Dr. Roberto Colon, vice president of quality and safety at Premier Health System, wore masks throughout the 2 1/2-hour meeting.
Dr. Colon said he has studied the virus since January 2020 — before the first case was reported locally — and he called this time “scarier than any point” in the last 20 months.
“Delta is no joke,” he said, adding it’s twice as likely to spread.
In the last six weeks, Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, part of Premier, has gone from designating one wing on one floor for COVID patients to three floors, he said.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, Mike Conner said he wasn’t against anyone wearing a mask, but he feels it’s not the district’s right to tell parents how to raise their children.
“I’m for choice,” he said. “It has to fall to parents. Where does it stop? We can’t allow this to happen.”
Lindsay Jenkins, who said she has three children in the district, said they were “eager and excited” to start the school year without being required to wear masks. Then the district changed its policy after eight days.
“It breaks my heart as a mother,” she said.
Then she pointed at the board members: “You are not the parents. I am.”
Phillips said the number of positive COVID cases has steadily increased in Middletown since early July, going from one case to 323 by Monday.
“COVID is real,” she said.
She said the best way to reduce the transmission of the virus is to wear a mask. As a health commissioner, Phillips said she’s “charged to protect everybody. Public health is about prevention.”
Those who are vaccinated still are at risk for the virus, but their symptoms probably will be less severe, she said.
“No vaccine is 100%,” she said.
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