More Butler County districts go to mandatory masks as cases grow in schools

Mike Holbrook, superintendent of the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, makes his case to the school board Friday for requiring masks of all students in the wake of hundreds of students missing classes due to coronavirus infections and quarantines. The board approved mandatory masks in a unanimous vote during the meeting broadcast on social media. Monroe Schools took the same action Thursday evening. Photo by Michael D. Clark\Journal-News)
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Mike Holbrook, superintendent of the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools, makes his case to the school board Friday for requiring masks of all students in the wake of hundreds of students missing classes due to coronavirus infections and quarantines. The board approved mandatory masks in a unanimous vote during the meeting broadcast on social media. Monroe Schools took the same action Thursday evening. Photo by Michael D. Clark\Journal-News)

As state and local numbers for coronavirus infections maintain some of their highest totals this year, more area school districts are reversing their stances on student masks and making them mandatory starting next week.

The Monroe and Hamilton school boards decided on Thursday and Friday to require masks in schools, joining others around the region that have looked to increase protective measures.

Officials point to the spread of the coronavirus delta variant pushing other schools to mask up or even close down. They also cite the sharp spike the numbers of students missing classes because they are ordered quarantined at home after a contact with a student who tested positive.

ExploreOhio reports more than 6,000 COVID cases for 3rd day in a row

“As we have finished our third week of school, our number of positive cases and students in quarantine continue to rise,” said Robert Buskirk, superintendent of Monroe Schools, which saw its school board vote unanimously Thursday evening to go to mandatory masking as of Tuesday.

“As I look at neighboring districts that have had to close due to huge numbers, I felt as a district we needed to change what we are doing.”

Friday morning saw the governing board of the 10,000-student Hamilton Schools call a rare emergency meeting where members voted 5-0 to also abandon the district’s previous recommendation for wearing masks and now requires students – vaccinated or not – to wear masks starting Wednesday.

Nearly 20 percent of Hamilton students have been held out of classes, mostly due to coronavirus quarantines and positive cases, Superintendent Mike Holbrook told the board.

“This week we have not had a day when less than 1,800 students have been absent,” Holbrook said during a Friday morning school board meeting.

There are 855 students not in school Friday because of quarantines and 65 positives cases among students, he said.

In-school experiences for students “are already starting to be lost” three weeks into the school year, he said.

“We want our students in school daily. We want our students and staff safe,” he said.

Buskirk told Monroe school parents in statement Friday: “I know this will not be a popular decision with many of our families, but it is my responsibility to keep our schools open. We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust as we have throughout this pandemic.”

Hamilton school parent Brian Baker said he objects to that city’s school system ordering his children to wear masks while in class.

“Masks do absolutely nothing. They restrict breathing and also having kids breathing through a dirty mask all day every day is a major problem with germs and bacteria,” said Baker. “I’m tired of the overreaching of power. My children are not the property of them (schools) or the state.”

But fellow Hamilton school parent Bianca Rose welcomed the requirement, saying that “I’m happy to see the district taking swift action to mandate masking in the classrooms.”

“If that can keep our children being pulled out of school and allow them to continue to learn in-person, I am all for it,” said Rose.

Meanwhile state health officials reported Friday Ohio had more than 6,000 daily cases of coronavirus for the third day in a row.

The state recorded 6,179 cases in the last day, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Ohio surpassed 7,000 daily cases for the first time since winter on Thursday.

As of Friday, Ohio had 2,625 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals and 778 COVID patients in its ICUs, according to ODH. Two weeks ago, on Aug. 21, the state reported 1,818 hospitalized patients 562 admitted to the ICU.

The state reported 81 deaths on Friday, bringing its total to 20,947, according to ODH. It’s the highest number of deaths reported in the last three weeks.

Coronavirus patients account for more than 9% of Ohio’s hospital beds and 16% of its ICU beds. The state has 23.8% of hospital beds and 24.24% of ICU beds available.