Clark, Champaign schools outline masks plans for fall

The decisions were made following state guidance for K-12 schools

Most school districts in Clark and Champaign Counties have made a decision regarding masks following the states guidance for K-12 schools for the upcoming school year.

Eight out of 12 districts plan to make masks optional, while two others have not made a decision as officials say they are still monitoring updates from the Centers for Disease Control, Ohio Department of Health, and local health districts.

The Ohio Department of Health is “strongly recommending” masks for those who have not received the vaccine as well as vaccines for those eligible as part of guidance for K-12 schools for the upcoming school year, said ODH Chief Medical Office Bruce Vanderhoff.

“While there are no mandates associated with this guidance, we believe that the recommendations we are issuing are essential to the health of Ohio’s youth and the success of the coming school year,” Vanderhoff said. “The safety of Ohio’s children is paramount, and the preventive measures that schools take will help protect Ohio’s students.”

ODH released updated guidelines for schools Tuesday.

The CDC said earlier this month that vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks inside school buildings, but unvaccinated people should continue to wear them indoors.

The CDC updated its guidance Tuesday to recommend that people in areas with high levels of COVID-19 cases resume wearing masks indoors.

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for children under 12, therefore most elementary school students would have to wear a mask based off the CDC recommendations.

“The Clark County Combined Health District concurs with CDC guidance that layered prevention strategies including the use of masks and social distancing offer enhanced protection against the spread of COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant,” said Nate Smith, CCCHD Communications Coordinator.

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Officials in several school districts said masks will be optional, including Global Impact STEM Academy, Clark-Shawnee, Graham, Greenon, Mechanicsburg Exempted Village, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southeastern, Tecumseh and Triad local schools.

“Wearing a face mask will be optional as we begin the new school year,” said Tecumseh Superintendent Paula Crew. “We are still examining the extent to which we can social distance with students attending full-time, in-person learning. As with all things, if the situation drastically changes, we will reexamine the situation.”

Graham is another school making masks optional, but will provide disposable ones if needed.

“Although it is recommended by the CDC that masks are worn, the district is not requiring this. It is a family’s personal preference if they choose to mask. We will have disposable masks available for students, staff, and visitors if they are needed,” said Graham Assistant Superintendent Emily Smith.

Although these districts are making masks optional, they continue to encourage students to get the vaccine if they are eligible.

“We are highly recommending that those who have not been vaccinated wear a mask, but we are not requiring it. We are strongly recommending that anyone who has not been vaccinated to please consider getting vaccinated if you are eligible to get vaccinated,” said Northwestern Superintendent Jesse Steiner.

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Springfield and Urbana City Schools are the two districts that continue to monitor updates and are all still waiting to make a decision on masks.

“As it pertains to masks in school this year, the district continues to monitor updates from the CDC, Ohio Department of Health and CCCHD... I am confident the SCSD is prepared to adhere to any and all mandates from the CCCHD and State of Ohio. I am hopeful we are able to begin a school year free of restrictions,” said Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill.

Smith said the health district is also encouraging students who are eligible to get vaccinated.

“Vaccines are proven safe and effective and offer the greatest protection against the spread of coronavirus. Because only the FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine is available to individuals 12-17, it takes five weeks from the first dose for students to be considered fully vaccinated (two weeks after their second dose),” Smith said. “We encourage all eligible students and their parents to make a plan to get vaccinated at any one of our local clinics.”

In addition to masks and vaccines, the ODH guidance encourages districts to improve ventilation and bring in outdoor air as much as possible. Physical distancing, frequent handwashing and sanitizing spaces are also advised.

“Our goal is to keep students back in school, in-person five days a week,” the guidance read. “Students benefit from in-person learning.”

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All local schools will be in-person this fall, with a majority of them starting at the end of August. Springfield, Tecumseh, Clark-Shawnee, Northwestern, GISA, Northeastern, Mechanicsburg and Triad will start during the week of Aug. 16-20. Urbana, Graham and Southeastern are among the few to start back the week of Aug. 23-26, and Greenon will start after Labor Day.