Local schools to decide student mask policy

It will be up to local school districts to decide if masks will be mandatory for students when they return to the classroom.

New guidance issued jointly by the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education Tuesday makes recommendations but carries no mandates for how to handle COVID-19 precautions.

The guidelines from the state, titled “Combatting COVID-19” said “Masks have been proven to be extremely effective in slowing the spread of the virus.”

>> Back to School: Start dates, mask policies & virtual plans for local districts

The message is consistent with statements from Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Chief Medical Officer, Ohio Department of Health, in a briefing Monday. He said no mandates would be set by the state. Instead, the new guidelines state, “ODH strongly recommends that those who are unvaccinated wear masks while in school.”

In response, two school leaders in the Miami Valley told News Center 7 that they are glad the decision on masking is up to educators at the local level.

Gene Lolli, Superintendent of the Fairborn City Schools said decisions on what how to handle those issues is better left to people in the district rather than in Columbus.

“It was a big relief to us that we can make that call. We do know what we think is best, even though we still are hearing from the health department, the CDC and the Greene County Health Department,” Lolli said.

Now that the decision is up to local boards, they do not have much time to adopt a formal policy on masking.

“Schools in Montgomery County start as of August tenth to as late as the Tuesday after Labor Day,” said Montgomery County Educational Service Center Superintendent Shannon Cox, “So, we have this rolling start across the county. They’re making these decisions right now.”

The ODH guidelines also include a strong recommendation for staff and teachers to be fully vaccinated, but again, the state will not make it mandatory.

While districts may be ready to set their own policies, Cox warns that the local rules could change, depending on the situation involving spread of the coronavirus.

“I want to caution everybody. We know how this works. We will start the school year. We will have to reassess after the first quarter to see what the numbers look like,” Cox said.

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