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Mask mandates take hold in more Tri-State school districts after long weekend

Many districts are choosing mask mandates over mass quarantines, but the decision isn’t so clear-cut everywhere.
Many Tri-State school districts that began the year without mask mandates have suffered from...
Many Tri-State school districts that began the year without mask mandates have suffered from stoppages in learning due to mass quarantines.(WJRT)
Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Two Greater Cincinnati school districts that began the year without mandating masks will return from Labor Day weekend with mandates in effect.

Lebanon City Schools and the Diocese of Covington are requiring masks beginning Tuesday.

Lebanon’s mask mandate is in effect until Sept. 24, after which school officials say they will evaluate the situation to decide if the mandate will continue.

The mask mandate in the Diocese of Covington is open-ended.

Masking About-Face(s)

In Covington and Lebanon, the mandates follow outspoken—even litigious—opposition from parents.

Parents in the Diocese of Covington sued Gov. Andy Beshear to halt enforcement of a statewide mask mandate that went into effect on Aug. 10. The parents won a federal restraining order on Aug. 19.

The statewide mask mandate was rescinded on Aug. 23.

Not a week later, the Diocese of Covington announced its new mask mandate, which Superintendent Kendra McGuire justified as a way to maintain in-person instruction as cases spread.

“During the 2020-2021 school year, we saw an increase in positive student cases following long weekends or holidays where people often gather. We also know that the higher the community rates, the more impacts we will see in our schools,” McGuire explained. “At this time, by returning to a mask requirement we will hopefully mitigate further spread of the virus and help keep quarantines to a minimum.”

In Lebanon, the Board of education held an emergency meeting on Aug. 25, when 536 students were quarantined, to propose a new mask policy.

Vocal feedback in the meeting torpedoed that policy, and the board voted instead to seek a legal determination about altering what requires a quarantine.

Less than a week later, the number of students quarantined had jumped above 900, and the district was forced temporarily to close.

The district then announced the mask mandate that took effect Tuesday. Students and staff are now required to wear facial coverings in all school buildings.

Either/Or?

The apparent trade-off between mask mandates and mass quarantines confronts parents, policy-makers and district officials with a hard bargain heading into the fall.

New statewide guidelines in Indiana allow any district with a mask mandate to relax its quarantine policy. Those districts will no longer have to quarantine close contacts if the contact is not showing symptoms.

Something similar could be on the way in Kentucky.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health are working on relaxing quarantined policies with so-called “pilot programs” in Warren County and Butler County school districts.

Ohio’s pilot programs do not require universal mask mandates in exchange for the relaxed quarantine policies, something Ohio’s teachers are not happy about.

Instead, the pilot programs allow unvaccinated, previously unmasked students who come into contact with a positive case to return to school. The students must wear a mask for seven days and test negative at either end of that span.

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