New state quarantine guidelines see some area districts change student mask policies

Some area school districts started new student masking policies Monday in the wake of recent changes in state recommendations for coronavirus quarantining of students. Butler County's largest district, Lakota Schools, went from mandatory masking to "highly recommended" as did Middletown Schools and some other local school systems. (File Photo\Journal-News)
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Some area school districts started new student masking policies Monday in the wake of recent changes in state recommendations for coronavirus quarantining of students. Butler County's largest district, Lakota Schools, went from mandatory masking to "highly recommended" as did Middletown Schools and some other local school systems. (File Photo\Journal-News)

The state’s newest guidelines on student quarantines — and their subsequent impact on mask policies — were adopted in some area school systems Monday as they also switched from mandatory to “strongly recommended” mask rules for their students.

Some local school leaders welcomed the state’s guidance in making the switch, which was based on a Warren County pilot program designed to reduce the number of students quarantined and forced out of live classes as a preventive measure to stem the coronavirus spread.

ExploreNew state student quarantine rules grew out of Warren County pilot

The related student masking policies have been a contentious issue for some school districts — locally and nationwide — and area school officials hope the new, more lenient quarantine guidelines will help cool the sometime heated student masking debates.

ExploreLocal school boards see more verbal clashes over masks, other issues at meetings

“While we understand that parents have very strong feelings on both sides of the mask issue, it has always been our priority to keep kids in school,” said Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller in a released statement announcing his 17,000-student district’s switch from mandatory masks.

The previous mandatory approach, said Miller, “has kept nearly 3,400 students out of quarantine since the start of school.”

“These new quarantine guidelines from the state give us an option to not only keep healthy close contacts learning in the classroom with the added precaution of a mask for the safety of others, but also give families the option to choose whether their child will wear a mask,” he said.

Some districts, such as the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools — and Madison Schools and Butler Tech — will see no change this week as officials there had decided since the beginning of the school year — as allowed by local school system autonomy — to go with a recommended student mask policy.

Nor will Monroe Schools change their “highly recommended” mask policy in place since Oct. 11, said Superintendent Robert Buskirk.

Also keeping their recommended mask policy is Mason Schools — for grades 7 to 12 — while mandatory masking remains for students in pre-kindergarten through 6th grade.

Hamilton Schools last week was one of the first in the area to change mask rules for students in the wake of the new state quarantine guidelines — going from mandatory to highly recommended.

Hamilton’s governing school board had experienced criticisms from some school parents about masking in recent weeks.

ExploreDespite changing student masking policy, Hamilton school board still hears criticism

Middletown’s 6,300 students now have an optional mask, though like for all Ohio schools, masks are still required on school buses due to federal transportation requirements.

Middletown Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. said the move away from mandatory masks does not signal less vigilance regarding the potential dangers of the coronavirus.

Moreover, Styles noted in an announcement to school parents, should coronavirus cases increase they can expect to switch back to mandatory masking.

“We are aware that COVID-19 is still active in our community and we will continue to be mindful of the health and safety of each other in our school environments. There may be periods of time where illnesses increase in our buildings, and in those cases we may issue recommendations for increased precautions, including the encouragement and/or requirement to wear masks,” said Styles.

Also switching — as of Monday — from mandatory to “highly recommended” masking of students is New Miami Schools.

Kings Schools, however, is continuing its mandatory masking for pre-kindergarten through 6th grade students, with a recommended mask option for grades 7-12.

And Talawanda Schools are also maintaining their mask requirement for students as part of an Oxford city policy.

Officials from Ross and Edgewood schools did not respond to messages Monday inquiring if they have, or have planned, any changes to their previous student mask policies.

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