Dayton joins growing list of schools mandating masks

Kettering school board hears debate, but masks remain optional in that district.

Dayton’s school board on Tuesday agreed in principle to a mask mandate for all students and staff when they are inside district buildings.

Dayton Public Schools joins the Jefferson Twp. and Yellow Springs school districts, and the DECA and Horizon Science charter schools locally in going with mask mandates for everyone.

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Oakwood and Centerville schools have limited mask mandates only for staff and students at elementary schools, as students under age 12 are not approved to receive COVID vaccines.

Most other local schools are repeating public health officials’ guidance, that unvaccinated students and staff are strongly encouraged to wear masks, but they are not requiring it.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising rapidly again. Wednesday’s 3,393 new cases reported by the Ohio Department of Health marked the state’s worst single-day total in six months.

Dayton school policy

Dayton’s school board meeting Tuesday night began with a presentation from Jeffrey Cooper and Dr. Michael Dohn from Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County.

The health officials expressed significant concern about the COVID-19 delta variant posing more risk to school-age children than the original coronavirus had. They also said COVID case rates are worst locally in low-income and high-minority communities.

Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli at first recommended a mask mandate for elementary school students at a minimum. School board member Dion Sampson called for all students to wear masks, saying a fourth-grader who wears a mask at school is still more likely to catch COVID at home if their high school sibling is unmasked at school.

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“To protect everyone, as uncomfortable as (masks) are, and as sick as we all are of them, I really believe that we need to require masks of all of our students, especially because of the family groups (issue),” Sampson said.

A majority of the board agreed, and Lolli said since masks would be required for students, then they will be required for staff as well.

The new school year begins for DPS students on Aug. 18. The mandate will not apply when students are outdoors, such as at school recess, and will not apply at outdoor events, such as football games. Only very limited volunteers will be allowed in Dayton schools to start the year.

Kettering debate

Kettering schools begin classes today. District leadership has recommended that unvaccinated students and staff wear masks indoors, but they are making it optional.

At Kettering’s school board meeting Tuesday night, the dozen-plus people who spoke on the mask issue were fairly evenly split between mask mandates and parental choice.

Genevive Ritchie-Ewing backed the updated CDC recommendations calling for “universal” masking of all teachers, staff and students in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status.

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“Montgomery County is a high-transmission county according to the CDC,” she said. Ritchie-Ewing said she wants her child to attend in-person classes safely, but fears without masks “we might be forced online again.”

Rebekah McDowell said the cloth masks that students were forced to wear last year become “disgusting Petri dishes of bacteria and they’re going directly on our children’s mouths.”

She also pointed to increased youth suicide statistics last year during COVID shutdowns, and argued that requiring masks can increase depression among students.

Kettering Superintendent Scott Inskeep last week encouraged families and staff to talk with their healthcare providers “to make a decision regarding masking that is best for you, your child and your family.”

Other schools

** Yellow Springs schools are mandating masks for all students and adults regardless of vaccination status. Superintendent Terri Holden said in a message to the community that, “Science has shown us that the two best lines of defense against COVID-19 are vaccinations and masking. We know how to wear masks and we have proven that we can do it successfully.”

** Elsewhere, the Cincinnati and Toledo districts are mandating masks for all students, and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a full mask mandate Tuesday for all schools, public and private, in that state.