Masks should be a choice, most parents say to Lebanon school board

No decision made after board discusses mask mandate, quarantine policy during three-hour meeting.

A standing room only crowd packed Wednesday night’s Lebanon Board of Education meeting when a mask mandate in the district was up for discussion.

About 10% of the 5,200 students in the district are in quarantine, which prompted the school board to call the special meeting to consider changes to the district’s mask policy. The district opened the year with masks optional, and about 75% of students choose not to wear a mask, officials said.

No decision was made Wednesday night. However, the board instead asked Superintendent Issac Seevers to consult its attorney about the district’s obligations to follow the local health department’s COVID-19 quarantine guidelines.

The superintendent said the quarantine policy is set by the health department. Students who are unmasked and unvaccinated who come into close contact with a person who tests positive cannot come into school for at least 10 days or seven days with a negative test after day five.

The majority of parents and community members who spoke during the meeting said that families should continue to have the choice of whether their children wear a mask at school. Many pointed to the quarantine policy as the real issue facing the district.

They contended Wednesday night that the policy is requiring students who are not sick to miss school.

State and local health officials strongly recommend that everyone wear masks in schools this fall, warning that the delta variant of COVID-19 is more contagious than the original strain and is more likely to make children sick.

Many of the parents said having the decision to choose whether their children should wear a mask is a freedom they value and asked the board to not implement a mask mandate.

A student who spoke during the meeting said that she was worried the district would have to go to virtual learning and that she and her classmates will miss out on their high school experience. She said mandating masks is the best way to keep the district in person and to protect at-risk students who are attending.

Seevers gave two recommendations during the meeting:

  • A three-week mask requirement for staff and all students in pre-K through 12th grade; and
  • A policy that allowed him to implement a mask requirement if the three-day average of daily absences reaches 15% of a building’s enrollment, if the number of students involved in the quarantine protocol reaches 15%; or if staff absences in a building reach 10%.

He said the recommendations are not a political statement, but instead a strategy to improve education in the wake of the pandemic.

“It is about keeping kids in school and nothing more than that,” he said.

The school board and superintendent fielded numerous questions from the public and the elected officials ultimately decided to table discussion to make sure they understood their obligations before voting.

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