Centerville superintendent’s COVID plan mandates masks for elementary schools

Face coverings ‘highly recommended’ at higher levels, but optional.

CENTERVILLE — Elementary school students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors amid a hike in COVID-19 variant cases, according to a plan by Centerville’s top administrator.

Superintendent Tom Henderson said the district would shift to a face mask mandate — a contentious issue — for those in PreK-5 buildings when school starts Aug. 18.

“While great strides have been made in controlling the spread of COVID-19, the virus still remains a health threat,” Henderson said Thursday night at a special board of education meeting. “Specifically, the delta variant is rapidly becoming dominant in Ohio and is highly transmissible, especially for those who are unvaccinated.”

Face masks would be “highly recommended,” but optional for those at middle schools and Centerville High School, according to the plan. The meeting drew more than 50 people, a handful of whom urged the district to require masks in some form.

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A majority of the board, which voted last month to make masks optional across the district, supported the proposal, which is similar to a plan Oakwood City Schools announced Sunday.

President Jeff Shroyer said he thinks mask wearing should be a parental choice. But he added the board “is 100% behind” Henderson’s decisions and no vote on the switch is necessary. The plan was posted on the district’s website late Friday afternoon.

Board member Dr. David Roer said “I fully support” the plan and Megan Sparks added Henderson “did a wonderful job coming up with a compromise.”

But board member Allison Durnbaugh urged that the district survey the community before deciding.

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“Everyone has strong and passionate feelings on the subject of masking,” she said.

Masking and/or vaccinations were topics by all 11 audience members who addressed the board Thursday night.

At least six of the endorsed using face masks. Bill Schroeder commended the district for its actions since the emergence of the coronavirus. But he said it should follow federal public health guidelines with the delta variant.

“Area colleges, business and other schools have implemented mask mandates. Like those institutions, this school board is responsible to protect all students,” he said.

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Rachel Gilbert said her son last winter was diagnosed with rare ailment linked to COVID despite having never tested positive for it.

“Masking is just one layer of protection. It isn’t foolproof,” she said. “And that’s why we need more than one way to protect our community from the spread of this extremely highly contagious disease.”

Meanwhile, Stephanie Bricker urged the district to “mandate all school personnel be vaccinated” before school starts.

“There is no need to force masks upon children unless their parents feel the need to wear one,” she said. “The risk of COVID is insignificant to children.”

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The district, Henderson said, wants to “minimize sending students out of school” due to contact tracing and quarantines through “a layered approach” using public health guidelines.

Aside from mask issues, that involves protocols for cleaning, ventilation, social distancing and quarantines, he said.

Vaccinated middle and high school students and staff exposed to the virus will not have to quarantine “unless symptoms develop,” Henderson said.

And the district “will work to maximize social distancing as much as possible,” he said.

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