Talawanda Schools mask mandate to be lifted in January

Credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

OXFORD — The masking requirement for Talawanda Schools will be lifted Jan. 10 in favor of “strongly recommending” students and staff continue wearing them.

The district’s board of education approved a plan giving the superintendent authority to reinstate the requirement if infection numbers reach certain levels.

The idea was discussed at last month’s board meeting and Superintendent Ed Theroux was asked to present a recommendation at the Dec. 13. meeting.

The recommendation came in two actions and both were approved on unanimous 5-0 votes.

Theroux said the district is averaging four to eight students per day testing positive for the coronavirus, which is higher than in the past. He said it was expected after the Thanksgiving break and said there may be a similar uptick after the coming holiday break.

Theroux said he was suggesting that Jan. 10 date rather than the first day of school after the holiday break because the district is hosting the second of two vaccination clinics on Jan. 8. Lifting the mask requirement two days later would better fit with those receiving their second dose then.

Board members favored giving the superintendent authority to reinstate the mask requirement in the face of a breakout a more immediate response than requiring the setting of a special board meeting date for a discussion. The procedure would follow what is already in place for closing school buildings or parts of them due to flu outbreaks.

“Following our contagious (flu) protocols where classrooms, buildings, and/or the district that reach a 20 percent or higher amount of student absence may be closed by the Superintendent,” Theroux wrote in his recommendation.

Approval came on a 5-0 vote for the first recommendation: “The Board recommends granting the Superintendent the authority to eliminate or mandate the wearing of masks based upon the data, CDC/Health Department orders and recommendations, and as needed for the safety of students, staff and the community.”

The second action called for that strong recommendation of wearing masks beginning January 10 but also noted the mask requirement will remain for students riding buses because of a federal mandate to wear masks on buses. If that changes, he said in his list of actions, students, staff and families will be notified of the decision to keep masks on the buses or to remove the mask mandate on the buses. He noted this decision may be changed throughout the school year.

“I still strongly recommend all students and staff wear masks. If a parent feels a child has been targeted for wearing a mask, report it. (Targeting) is not right,” Theroux said, adding reports can be made to teachers, building administrators or the central office to him personally.

Several of his planned actions, approved in that second recommendation are related to dealing with individuals who either have COVID-like symptoms or are in contact with others who have the virus.

They include:

• Students/staff who have COVID-19 symptoms (not tested, no alternative diagnosis), live with a person who is COVID-19 positive, or is not feeling well should stay home. Contact the school nurse/administrators for additional information. Parents who have children/students with direct contact or exposure will be required to wear a mask at school and extracurricular activities or stay home for the quarantined timeline prescribed by Butler County Health District.

• Students/staff who are COVID19 positive must follow the BCHD quarantine or isolation orders.

• With the lifting of the mask mandate, the direct contact or exposure moves from 3 feet to 6 feet of distance, 15 minutes of cumulative time or contact remains in place. BCHD will make all final decisions that will be followed by the Superintendent and staff.

• Students/staff with alternative diagnosis (such as flu or allergies) or a negative COVID-19 test on day 5, 6 or 7 need to contact school nurses/school administrators with the documented information. Students/staff who test negative may possibly return on day 8 if approved by BCHD. Students/staff with alternative diagnosis may possibly return the next day upon approval by BCHD.

The superintendent urged people to follow these guidelines to protect everyone.

“If we all do our part, I believe we could go forward without masks,” he said.

In his report he noted other districts are experiencing less spread of COVID-19 than in the Talawanda district, but said those districts have higher vaccination rates.

His list of recommendations includes a note that if students and staff are required to wear masks, they must be worn correctly covering the mouth and nose.

Students/staff who are fully vaccinated may share their status with our nurses and administrators who will relay this information back to BCHD. Documented proof of vaccination status will be required.

Butler County Board of Health orders stand and must be adhered to, he noted.

Any changes to the status or process of protocols will be communicated on the district web site and through e-mails to parents.

“Let’s keep COVID-19 out of our schools. Let’s keep our schools open to in-person learning,” Theroux said.

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