Oak Hills School District resists mask mandate during contentious board meeting

Masks will remain a choice for parents and students come fall.
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 6:02 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A heated meeting Monday of the Oak Hills Board of Education saw both sides voice their opinion on the issue of whether to impose a mask mandate in the fall.

The board decided to leave the decision up to parents.

“It’s your choice whether or not your child wears a mask to school,” said board member Jan Hunter. “It’s also your choice if you decide to take your child out of Oak Hills School District.”

That ultimatum comes as cases of COVID-19, nearly all comprising the delta variant, surge in the Tri-State and across the country.

The variant is so much more transmissible than the original virus that it renders epidemiological tools like contact tracing less effective, possibly resulting in large, revolving quarantines that could make in-person learning unworkable.

The vaccines remain extremely effective against the variant, particularly with regard to severe illness, but breakthrough infections can occur, and even non-symptomatic, vaccinated carriers can transmit it to others.

That puts school districts in a bind, as the vaccines are currently only approved for those 12 and up.

In the early stages of the delta variant’s emergence, the CDC announced its recommendation that vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks inside school buildings.

The American Academy of Pediatrics quickly followed with a countervailing recommendation for universal masking in schools among all over the age of 2 regardless of vaccination status.

Vaccination mandates are prohibited in Ohio’s public schools by statute. Mask mandates are not.

The Ohio Department of Health will not impose a statewide mask mandate in Ohio schools, but school districts, including Ohio’s largest, have announced their own mask mandates for the fall.

Oak Hills declined to follow suit on Monday despite support from at least a dozen parents.

“We need to care about more than just ourselves,” Katie Schmidt, mother of an 11-year-old student, said in the meeting. “We need to care about the community. There’s still the delta spread. It’s still a pandemic.”

The majority present at the meeting were against masks in schools, and sometimes they shouted down the other side.

“They can’t breathe right,” said Patrick Biting. “They don’t like the mask. It’s slowing down their education.”

Now Schmidt says she has a tough choice to make.

“I don’t know if I’m going to send my son this year, because he’s not vaccinated yet,” she said.

[List: Mask policies for Tri-State schools]

In the Mason School District, they “strongly recommend” unvaccinated students and staff wear a mask indoors. The district is not requiring masks, though.

More than 100 doctors penned an open letter to the Mason school board saying they do not agree with the district’s decision.

Sycamore Community Schools has not yet decided if they will or will not require masks for the start of the year.

Sycamore parent and emergency room physician Dr. Sunny Wang said the science shows masks work.

“I understand people are tired. We’re 18 months into this pandemic now,” said Dr. Wang. “People want to go back to normal and I hear that a lot and believe me, I want to go back to normal. I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to worry about another mask when I go out. But, unfortunately, to get us there, everybody in the short term has to abide by the science and follow the recommendation from the experts.”

The Sycamore school board will meet on Wednesday to talk about its mask policy.

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