Amid unprecedented quarantine, Lebanon hits brakes on pared-down mask mandate

Currently 10 percent of the district’s students are quarantined, far more than the largest quarantine last year.
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 8:00 PM EDT
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WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - Faced with its largest-yet quarantine of students due to COVID-19, the Lebanon City Schools Board of Education met Wednesday night to consider a new mask mandate.

Instead, the board decided to seek a legal determination about altering what constitutes or justifies a “quarantine.”

The unanimous vote tabled the mask proposal put forward by Superintendent Isaac Seevers.

The district’s current quarantine policy derives from recommendations of the Warren County Health District and the Ohio Department of Health, which be found here.

Parental pushback

The majority of the meeting’s 15 public speakers advocated for keeping the optional mask policy with which the district began the school year.

“I implore you to give parents the option, let them decide what they want to do with their children,” one parent said before acknowledging the difficulty of the board’s decision.

Another threatened to sue the district if it opted for the mask mandate.

Prefiguring the outcome of the meeting, a third said the issue is with quarantines, arguing that his daughter is being kept home despite not being sick.

The balance of the room notwithstanding, Seevers pointed to a survey of parents showing 125 of the 277 respondents favored a mask mandate.

“I personally do not like the masks,” a student speaker said. “But I would rather wear them than miss out on high-school experiences.”

The student also said wearing masks is something easy to do that will “hopefully allow us to stay in-person.”

Lebanon’s mass quarantine

As of Wednesday, 49 students in the district have tested positive, including two breakthrough cases among students who are vaccinated. Seventeen more students are awaiting test results.

Some 536 students are quarantined due to contact tracing. Another 52 students identified as close contacts are vaccinated or wear a mask and will not miss school.

The largest quarantine last year (Nov. 8-14) saw 192 students kept home on 33 positive cases.

Seevers said the district is seeing spread of the virus within school buildings, something it did not see last year. He noted some parents are sending symptomatic students to school before getting them tested.

Masks are not widely used. According to district data, 24 percent of Pre-K-6th grade students are wearing a mask and 10 percent of students in grades 7-12 are wearing a mask.

The vaccination rate among students is another factor. Currently, just 35 percent of Lebanon students ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated.

That compares poorly with nearby districts. For example, 48 percent of the same age group are fully vaccinated in Mason, a community with a similar number of confirmed cases but far fewer students quarantined due to the higher vaccination rate.

The mask proposal

The pared-down proposal would mandate masks, but it only applies where six feet of social distancing is not possible indoors and only when students/staff will be present in the location for at least 15 minutes.

The mandate would be triggered for all students, staff and visitors in specific school district buildings when any of the following conditions are met:

  • If the three-day average of daily absences reaches 15 percent of a building’s enrollment (including students in isolation, quarantined, excused or unexcused absences;)
  • If the number of students involved in the quarantine protocol (isolation, quarantine or vaccinated close-contacts) reaches 15 percent of a building enrollment; or
  • If the staff absences in a building reach 10 percent due to isolation, quarantine or exhibiting symptoms consistent with the epidemiology of the illness.

The mandate would expire for specific buildings after three weeks but only if the percentage of absences falls below 10 percent for that specific building.

Exceptions would exist as outlined by the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health. Exceptions must be requested in writing to the school nurse, and a decision on the request will be provided in writing.

“We need to keep kids in school,” Seevers argued.

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