Centerville City Schools votes to rescind mask requirement

CENTERVILLE — In front of dozens of parents Monday evening, the Centerville City Schools Board of Education voted to rescind the district’s mask requirement for the upcoming school year.

Following a recommendation from Superintendent Tom Henderson, board members unanimously voted to remove the mandate in school buildings, despite multiple members strongly recommending mask-wearing among unvaccinated students and staff, and noting a recent state law passed in Columbus largely “tied (their) hands” in making this decision.

The vote came just hours after the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidance Monday, recommending, for schools, “universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccines,” adding, “Many schools will not have a system to monitor vaccine status.”

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The Centers for Disease Control’s latest guidance, out July 9, also recommends indoor masking among those not fully vaccinated.

Some parents who spoke at Monday night’s meeting in Centerville praised the board’s leadership and decision-making.

“I’m here to say thank you to the board,” one parent said.

“I’m happy that we’ve made the decision to return the freedom of mask-wearing to the people,” another said.

But parent Amy Boyd shared her concern with the change, noting she has a child with a compromised immune system. She requested an online learning option.

“I’m not asking the parents out there to suck it up and, ‘We’re all going to wear masks,’” she said. “I’m just asking for an alternative for our kids that can’t come to school with the kids not wearing masks. And who are not vaccinated.”

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To date, the Food & Drug Administration has only issued emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children age 12 and up. Vaccines by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have emergency use authorization for those age 18 and older.

Multiple Board of Education members mentioned any possibility of having mask requirements for unvaccinated students and no requirement for those vaccinated largely disappeared after Gov. Mike DeWine signed a new state law last week, passed by the Ohio House and Senate, prohibiting districts from “discriminating” against students who have not been vaccinated.

“We’re sort of in this bind where everyone has to be treated the same whether they’re vaccinated or unvaccinated. So the choice for us to mask everyone again or mask no one, sort of didn’t leave us a ton of a choice,” Dr. David Roer, Centerville Board of Education member and pediatrician, told News Center 7′s Sean Cudahy following Monday evening’s decision.

“Was this the decision you truly wanted to come to?” Cudahy asked.

“I think it’s the decision we had to come to at this point,” Roer said. “What we wanted and what has to happen…two different things.”

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The law passed by state lawmakers also prohibited Ohio school districts from requiring vaccines lacking full FDA approval – which the current COVID-19 vaccines have yet to receive.

Still, Centerville School leaders made clear Monday, they will strongly recommend masks among those not fully vaccinated – even though it will not be a requirement.

“We would welcome face masks, but it would now be everyone’s individual decision as to whether they wear them to school – or to work if you’re a staff member,” Henderson said.

The district added, face coverings will be required on board school buses, citing federal mandates for public transportation.

For parents concerned about their child’s health amid relaxed mask requirements, Henderson said school leaders would be willing to work with families on a case-by-case basis, even as the district plans a return to fully in-person, five-days-per-week learning.

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