Centerville schools to keep COVID mask mandate through mid-January

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Superintendent says cases are up since Thanksgiving; some called for an end to the mandate this week

CENTERVILLE — Face masks will continue to be required in all Centerville City Schools facilities at least until mid-January, it was announced late Tuesday.

“Our goal is to keep students in school in-person so we can continue to move forward with learning,” Superintendent Tom Henderson said in a statement to district families.

“Our schools have seen an increase in positive (COVID) cases in the two weeks since Thanksgiving Break, and we expect another uptick in cases following our upcoming holiday break,” he added.

ExploreAugust story: Centerville criticized for mask exemption approach

The announcement to keep the policy in place until at least Jan. 18 came after some parents and teachers urged the district to lift the COVID-19 related mandate, which has been a divisive issue for months.

Some residents told the Centerville board of education that parents should be at least be given a choice. The district has required masks to be worn in all facilities since late August, when Henderson changed guidelines that had required face masks for only K-5 students.

Mask-choice advocate Amy Johns said at Monday’s school board meeting that school district ZIP codes recently have shown fewer COVID cases, and argued the threat from the Omicron variant is “very mild.”

After months of seeing classmates and instructors in masks, “they don’t know what each other looks like,” Johns said. “They don’t know what their teacher looks like.”

ExploreNovember: Schools change quarantine policy, but few change masking

Centerville High School teacher Matt Stilwell said he enforces the mask policy, whether he believes in it or not. Stilwell is critical of the way the district decides medical face mask exemptions. He said his daughter had health concerns confirmed by a board-certified doctor.

“But the (school) nurses were out of that loop,” he said. “They are the educated ones who know what to do. Yet the superintendent chooses to make that decision. The nurses are far more qualified for that, yet were pushed to the side.”

Stilwell said his daughters “are medically exempt everywhere else in the world except in the school they attend.”

“I just would respectfully ask that you give the parents the choice,” Denise Wright told the board, citing concerns about both mental health and mask effectiveness. “I understand there are parents who do want their kids to wear masks and I fully understand their concerns and their fears,” she said.

District officials should consider “the other parents who find that wearing masks is hurtful to the children. There’s a lot of anxiety and depression,” Wright said.

The CDC recommends mask wearing, saying that masks “reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets by the wearer,” adding that the benefit increases fi higher numbers of people wear masks “consistently and correctly.”

Henderson said he announced the August policy change due to a “very, very high” number of positive COVID cases. The number of cases have fluctuated, but “soared again” around Thanksgiving, he said.

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