OHIO — School districts in Ohio are announcing new mask policies for the fall as the state prepares to issue recommendations for COVID-19 protocols in classrooms.
What You Need To Know
- Cleveland and Columbus announced universal mask requirements this week
- Toledo schools said Friday that masks will be optional for high schoolers
- Other districts are not planning to require masks this coming school year
Some districts are announcing they’ll try to have a normal fall, while others, including some of the largest urban districts in the state, said that masks will be here to stay when students go back.
Districts are finalizing their decisions amid warnings from health officials about the risks of COVID-19 transmission among unvaccinated youth.
A number of districts said they will await guidance from the state, after health officials announced this week they intend to soon provide schools recommendations as far as masking for the upcoming school year.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is reviewing new guidance from the nation’s leading pediatricians association, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), officials said Wednesday.
The association’s new guidance states students should wear face masks at school regardless of vaccination status.
ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff clarified Wednesday schools will not be required by the state to go one way or the other on masks.
But he stressed that schools are a unique case when it comes to mask decisions because a high percentage of the student population is ineligible for immunization.
The surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is prompting some schools to reevaluate their policies. As the delta variant spreads, seven-day average cases have increased to 623, a 195% increase since July 8. Hospitalizations in Ohio have doubled in the last two weeks, as the state's COVID-19 patients census rose to 393 on Friday.
Also key for districts still on the fence about masks will be the final word from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which currently advises that vaccinated students do not need to wear face coverings. That guidance is being reviewed following the AAP announcement.
Districts’ decisions have also been impacted by the recent passage of a bill that could prevent schools from requiring that unvaccinated students wear masks if vaccinated students are exempt.
Will you or your child need to be masked this fall? Here's the latest from districts around the state:
The state’s largest school district will require students to wear masks in the fall, the district announced Thursday.
“Safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall is a priority, and masks provide an extra layer of protection in reducing transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” Superintendent Talisa Dixon said in a statement Thursday.
Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said the spread of the more contagious delta variant makes masking the right move for the city’s schools
CEO Eric Gordon announced Monday Cleveland Metropolitan students and staff will be required to wear masks for at least the first five weeks of school.
Gordon explained the district came to its decision because new legislation in Ohio requires equal treatment of unvaccinated and vaccinated students.
He said with the CDC recommending that all unvaccinated students and adults wear masks, a universal mask mandate is the only way to ensure unvaccinated students don’t forgo masks.
The Cincinnati Board of Education discussed masking for the upcoming school year during a meeting on Monday.
The district's health and safety committee is recommending that indoor mask requirements remain in effect when students return to classrooms in the fall until a higher student vaccination rate is reached, said Sarah Trimble-Oliver, chief strategy officer.
During the meeting, Trimble-Oliver presented the latest CDC and AAP recommendations to the board, as well as the implications of the recently passed legislation that prevents discrimination based on vaccination status.
The policy has not been finalized as it is pending further discussion by a committee.
Toledo Public Schools officials announced that masks will be optional in its high schools but required for younger age groups.
The decision was made because a majority of students in pre-K through 8th grade are not eligible to receive a vaccine, according to a statement Friday.
“While we are planning to return to school in as normal of a setting as possible, we will continue to monitor COVID-19 infection rates in our area,” officials said.
The district said masks are “strongly recommended for high school students and staff members, especially those who have not yet been vaccinated or are not eligible yet for the vaccine.”
Masks will not be required after the Centerville Board of Education repealed its mask requirement on Monday.
“Face masks will be welcome, but it will now be your decision whether to have your child wear one at school,” Superintendent Dr. Tom Henderson said in a statement.
The school district lifted its mask mandate on July 1, while continuing to recommend masks for students and staff who have not been vaccinated.
Officials could not be reached for comment on whether the policy is under review in light of recent guidance
At a school board meeting this month, members reviewed policy changes that would turn the district’s mask requirement into a recommendation, a spokesperson for the district said.
“As of this time though, no final decisions have been made for the opening of school,” spokesperson Stacie Raterman said.
If the new policy is approved, Raterman said it will acknowledge that the district must comply with all local, state and federal health requirements.
Masks have been optional but recommended for unvaccinated students in Dublin since June 2, the date when most of the state’s COVID-19 health orders ended.
When the mandate was lifted, the district said it expected that policy to continue into the 2021 school year, subject to changing virus conditions.
Officials could not be reached for comment to provide an update.
Spokesperson Gina Gentry-Fletcher said the district is awaiting guidance from the health department before making a final decision on its mask policy.
As of June 2, the district stopped requiring masks leaving the decision to staff and families.
Pete Grieve is a Report for America corps member covering public health for Spectrum News in Columbus, Ohio. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.