Masks, Distancing and State Health Mandates Loom as Land Mines for Ohio’s School Reopening
Jason Hedges, a school psychologist from Ohio, is concerned about the state’s plans to reopen schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. He questions the scientific basis behind requiring children and staff to wear masks and practice social distancing throughout the school day. Hedges is not alone in his opposition, as numerous parents, teachers, and administrators have expressed their concerns to the state school board.
The debate surrounding the necessity of masks and social distancing to combat the virus has intensified in Ohio, mirroring the national conversation. Residents and business owners have urged Governor Mike DeWine to reopen the state more quickly and relax restrictions. This divide often aligns with the urban-rural divide and political affiliations.
The issue of reopening schools in the fall is also fueling tension in Ohio. While some school districts with high infection rates are cautious about the risks, families in less-affected areas are resisting state health restrictions. The Centers for Disease Control recommends wearing masks and maintaining a six-foot distance in schools, but some parents and officials argue that these mandates are excessive, especially in areas with low infection rates.
There is a significant disparity in coronavirus cases across the state. For instance, Cleveland’s county, Cuyahoga, has nearly 5,000 cases, while five other counties have fewer than 10 cases each.
Ohio’s school reopening plans are expected to be announced in two weeks. Although DeWine prefers to leave decisions to local school districts, he stated that the plan would provide guidance on health protocols. The proposed draft plan by State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, which included mask requirements and social distancing, has faced resistance from parents.
Parents have expressed their reluctance to accept masks for their children in a recent survey conducted by the Ohio Parent Teacher Association. Approximately 32% of parents would send their kids to school with mask mandates, while 40% opposed the idea, and 28% were unsure. Furthermore, thousands of parents have joined a Facebook group opposing hybrid school plans, which combine in-person and online classes.
An online petition called "Ohio Parents Against Mixed School Days" has accumulated over 60,000 signatures, protesting hybrid plans and mask mandates. The petition emphasizes the desire for students to return to school without any alteration to the usual routine.
Alice Marrs, a resident of Picqua, Ohio, initiated the petition as she believes that students need to be back in school. Marrs suggests that online classes can be an alternative for families concerned about the virus. She advocates for parental choice in making such decisions rather than leaving them to the health and education departments.
Some members of the state school board share the sentiment of leaving reopening decisions to individual districts rather than imposing statewide mandates. Kirsten Hill, a board member from the rural community of Amherst, views the health restrictions in the draft reopening plan as burdensome and believes that adults and families should have autonomy in deciding their actions. She argues that it is impractical to sanitize everything for everyone and suggests that only the sick should quarantine, rather than controlling the healthy population.
However, Meryl Johnson, a former teacher from Cleveland, supports the measures aimed at controlling the virus, especially given its disproportionate impact on the black population. She also highlights the elevated risk faced by teachers over the age of 50. Johnson emphasizes that not everyone feels comfortable sending their children back to school.
Overall, the debate over reopening schools in Ohio underscores the need to balance public health concerns with the desire to resume normal educational activities. It reflects the broader conversation taking place at the national level, with different viewpoints arising based on the severity of the outbreak in specific areas. The final decision on Ohio’s reopening plans will be revealed in two weeks, and it remains to be seen how the state will address the diverse perspectives and challenges surrounding this issue.
The bill states that no other government official has the authority to prevent a district or school from opening its school buildings for in-person instruction, force a district or school to close its school buildings, or mandate the adoption of COVID-19 health safety measures and guidelines.
Huffman, on Wednesday, expressed his willingness to modify the bill to require schools to consult local health departments.
Scott DiMauro, the leader of the Ohio Education Association, mentioned that some members are reluctant to return to school without strict health precautions. However, he is in ongoing discussions with state officials to find potential compromises, such as adjusting health precautions based on community infection rates.