Southwest Ohio school district votes to relax indoor mask requirements

BLANCHESTER, Ohio — The board of education at Blanchester Local Schools in southern Clinton County voted Monday night to relax requirements for mask wearing both inside and outside school buildings, according to our news partners at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

Blanchester’s board voted to immediately allow students and staff members to remove masks while outdoors and on buses when a window is open. Staring June 1, the district will also allow for students and staff to remove masks while inside, the station reports.

The decision by the district’s board is a direct contradiction to current Ohio Department of Health requirements for masking in educational settings. Currently, ODH requires students to wear masks in and outside during school functions with some exceptions like eating and drinking or participating in sports.

Both sides of the issue have been outspoken both ahead and after the decision. The Ohio Education Association, a statewide teachers union, raised questions about the district’s decision.

“Why this? Why now?” OEA president Scott DiMauro said Tuesday to WCPO-TV. “Why not continue to follow the state and the CDC and the medical community’s clear guidance?”

“It seems blatantly illegal, but it’s also just poor judgment,” DiMauro said. “There is still significant spread of COVID.”

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, district Superintendent Dean Lynch sent a letter to board members warning for the potential of negative reactions after the vote.

Only one of the five board members, Kathy Gephart, voted against the measure to relax mask restrictions saying she prefers to follow advice from the medical community.

“What we’ve been hearing is, people are fed up,” board member Jeremy Kaehler said after voting in favor of the change. “They’re sick of the mask policy. We’ve had some people who have expressed concerns about their child’s health over the mask policy, parents who want their kids in school but don’t want their kids to be forced to wear a mask.”

Some families in the area backed him up.

“They’re always constantly thinking about that mask on their face, pushing it down,” said Jackie Blevins, who has 16 grandchildren in Blanchester schools. “And, you know, they’re pulling on it all the time. So, what good does it do?”