Miami Valley Rep. pushes end to school mask mandates

MIAMI VALLEY — While Gov. Mike DeWine is letting local school boards decide what to do about mask requirements for staff and students, a Miami Valley lawmaker is pushing for a plan that instead leaves it up to parents.

Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, has signed on as a co-sponsor of a newly introduced bill to prohibit local boards of education from ordering masking of students and districts employees.

“School boards, while they have great insight for Ohio children, it’s still parental rights that are first and foremost. So, whether it’s the state or local school board, they should not have the right to make a child wear a mask in a public school,” Powell told WHIO-TV.

Ohio School districts are all over the map when it comes to masking and other COVID precautions. Some districts, most of them larger and urban, are requiring masks.

Most other districts in suburban and rural areas of the state are making it voluntary.

It comes as the Ohio Department of Health is strongly recommending the masking of students, but not requiring it.

In a briefing this week, Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, ODH’s newly appointed Director, said scientific studies have been looking into the effectiveness of masks and whether they really do protect the person wearing one.

“The answer is ‘yes,’ They do provide substantial protection,” Vanderhoff said.

Still, Powell remains unconvinced that local boards should be in control on the masking issue.

“School board rights don’t trump parental rights and unfortunately we are seeing more school boards are trying to trump parental rights around the state. So that’s when the state does need to step in and say “no,” parental rights matter and we will not allow the state or local school board to do a mask mandate on Ohio children,” Powell said.

Lawmakers are currently on summer break but will begin returning to the Statehouse on a limited basis later this month.

The Ohio House Health Committee will return to Columbus to hold additional hearings on HB 248 which prohibits employers from mandating vaccination.

The bill does not apply to hospital employees.

Hearings on the masking bill may begin when the full General Assembly returns in September.

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