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Mask mandate mulled

Local schools stay flexible on choice

Valley school districts are being flexible on whether they will require students to wear face masks and shields when school reopens in the fall.

The state, in the meantime, has decided not to mandate students wearing masks in school, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Monday.

The health department is urging school employees and eligible students age 12 and older to get vaccinated. That is the best protection, Vanderhoff said.

Health officials also are recommending schools continue additional measures that have proven helpful, such as keeping extra distance between people indoors, improving ventilation, sanitizing and encouraging proper hand-washing.

Some of the state’s largest school districts, such as Cleveland and Columbus, have decided to require their students to wear masks during the first weeks of the school year, regardless of whether they have received the coronavirus vaccine shots.

The delta variant among unvaccinated people is largely causing a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the state, Vanderhoff said Monday. But less than half of the state’s population has been vaccinated.

Tracy Hostetler, superintendent of the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio, said the organization has not made any decision on masking for its member school districts.

“We … are prepared to implement health and safety measures based on (Gov. Mike DeWine’s) orders and the direction of our local health department,” Hostetler said.

She notes it usually takes a week or so to get the order and another few days to decipher its actual implication for schools.

“Local health departments talk with the state health department then to the ESC and districts,” Hostetler said. “We work directly with our local health department to plan.”

The Centers for Disease Control is promoting vaccinations as a way to help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.

The CDC recommends masks should be worn indoors by all individuals who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated especially is important indoors and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Students should maintain at least three feet of physical distance between themselves in classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk, according to CDC recommendations.

“When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking,” according to he CDC.

Students, teachers, and staff should stay home when they have signs of any infectious illness and be referred to their health care provider for testing and care.

LaBrae Superintendent Anthony J. Calderone says the district will return to in-person learning five days a week beginning Aug. 31.

“At this point, masks will be optional,” Calderone said. “The governor signed legislation saying organizations cannot discriminate between those that are vaccinated and those that are unvaccinated. There are no mandates or health orders. We will follow CDC, state and local health orders.”

Calderone emphasized the district is closely following the local health conditions.

“We are following community spread,” he said. “What is happening in one part of the state may be different than what is happening in another.”

Calderone expects there will be an online option for students that are not ready to return to their buildings, but it will operated by the Trumbull County ESC.

Brookfield Superintendent Toby Gibson said the decision on masks will be left to students and their guardians. Brookfield schools will reopen to students on Aug. 26.

“I’ve told parents (that) masks are not mandatory,” Gibson said. “If their children want to wear masks, they can. We will, like last year, provide masks for those requesting them.”

Brookfield school buildings will be open to in-person learning five days a week.

“We want to return to a sense of normalcy,” Gibson said. “It is good for our students to be back in the buildings.”

There will be an online school for parents and students who are uncomfortable with returning to in-person and in-building education.

“Parents will have to commit to the online school for the fall semester,” Gibson said. “They can re-evaluate on whether (to recommit) at the end of the semester.”

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