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Back to the masks

Howland, Hubbard temporarily require use of face coverings

WARREN — Howland and Hubbard school districts joined other districts that require students and staff members to wear masks or some type of face coverings over the next several weeks while they come to grips with higher-than-normal absenteeism and increasing COVID-19 infections.

Howland Local Schools had 22 staff members and 450 students absent on Friday. Howland had been one of a number of Trumbull County districts that allowed parents and children to choose whether they wanted to wear masks at school. The new mask mandate is meant to be temporary, according to the district.

In Hubbard, Superintendent Raymond Soloman said the district, starting today, is extending the mask requirements already established in his high school to its middle and elementary school buildings due to increasing illness numbers. The district will continue this policy for at least four weeks, re-evaluating the policy at the end of that time.

Hubbard Exempted Village Schools had the most new cases of COVID-19 with 13 and cumulative confirmed cases of 46, according to the Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard for schools. There were no new staff cases and one cumulative.

Also among area districts with mask requirements:

• Newton Falls had 10 new student cases and 12 cumulative students cases, according to the ODH COVID-19 dashboard. Only one staff member reported having the virus. The district requires students to wear masks in its buildings.

• Warren City Schools had nine new student cases reported on the ODH dashboard and 13 cumulative cases. The district reported 4 new staff cases and 13 cumulative cases for staff. Warren students are required to wear masks.

• Lakeview Local Schools reported six new student cases and 22 cumulative student cases. The district had no new or cumulative staff with the virus.

• Canfield Local Schools plan to mandate masks for all students in grades K-6, as well as for staff and visitors, beginning Wednesday. An official announcement is scheduled for today.

In Howland, Superintendent Kevin Spicher emphasized the mask mandate is intended to be temporary.

“The number of people absent has been increasing over the last two-week period,” Spicher said. “We have noted trends that are now disrupting our main goal to maintain a healthy environment for in-person instruction to be successful.

“Student and staff absences due to illness and quarantines have increased so significantly that managing and maintaining the in-person delivery model is now in jeopardy if we don’t adjust our course,” Spicher said. “We have already had 2,179 student absences in the first nine days of school when we have previously averaged 405 to 495.”

The decision to mandate masks was made over the weekend. There are exemptions to the policies that parents can apply for their students.

The district is strongly recommending that all visitors wear masks as well but will only require masks if they are in the buildings for more than 15 minutes.

This requirement includes indoor activities and sports, but does not include outdoor activities or sports. Additional details will be shared by the Activities Office in the coming days. This mask mitigation measure, like others, will be removed when sustained reductions in illness are observed.

“We are doing a soft rollout,” Spicher noted. “We will review this every two weeks.”

The district will have masks on hand on buses and in buildings, so there is no immediate need for parents to purchase them.

“Due to the fact that the local health department will not quarantine students or staff wearing masks and / or above 6 feet, we will see an immediate and substantial reduction in quarantines,” Spicher said.

Howland was one of a number of Trumbull districts allowing parents and children to choose whether they wanted to wear masks inside their facilities.

In Hubbard, the high school has required masks or some type of face coverings since the beginning of the school year. Now all students and visitors in all district facilities will be required to have some type of face covering.

Soloman said absenteeism in the district as slightly up from previous years.

According to the Ohio Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard for schools, the first update for schools were from Sept. 7 through Friday.

While the reporting system has been in place since September 7, 2020, some schools may have chosen to include cumulative cases from before that date, that ODH stated.

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