COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Superintendents and school boards across the state are working on plans on what school will look like when it comes to masking and COVID-19 mitigation measures to start the school year.
Federal, state, and local agencies have all pushed out recommendations for schools over the last three days.
Dr. Melvin Brown with Reynoldsburg City Schools says this year is more challenging and the district is currently working on a plan.
What makes the decision more difficult, he said, is there are no specific orders for schools, just recommendations.
The first day of school is just weeks away for several districts, and big decisions on masking are still on the table.
“Mandates allow me to make decisions about education, which is what I’m trained for,” Brown said. “That’s what I’ve gone to school for and had experience and not making decisions about health decisions.”
Last school year, there were statewide health orders. Now, with Ohio’s health orders rescinded, the pressure is on each individual district. Senate Bill 22, passed into law earlier this year, allows the General Assembly to reject any emergency health order issued by the governor’s administration, making a new mask mandate from the Ohio Department of Health unlikely to stand if issued.
“I think they need to know that schools aren’t making these decisions in isolation and nor is the health department,” Brown said. “We’re governed by certain laws and statutes that require us to do X,Y, and Z.”
Gahanna-Jefferson School District discussed masking at a committee meeting Wednesday night.
“How do we keep kids in school five days a week for nine months with the least amount of interruption as possible? That is our goal,” Gahanna-Jefferson Superintendent Steve Barrett said during the meeting, which was held in person but also streamed online.
District leaders said at this point, no decision has been made for their schools, but pointed out the varying guidance from the CDC, Ohio Department of Health, Franklin County Public Health, and Columbus Public Health. Some agencies recommend masks for the unvaccinated, while others call for universal masking.
“Right now, they’re at different places,” Barrett said. “They’re not aligned necessarily in where they are with things like masks and mitigation strategies and we’re going to keep that in mind and that’s what we’re going to deliberate.”
Brown said the district plans to make an announcement soon.
“One caveat where there is a mandate is that, in school buses, masks will be required,” Brown said. “That will be a definite. That’s already in place. That’s in line with the CDCs mandate and reference to public transportation, so that’s a decision I don’t have to make, It’s already made.”
Some school districts have already made decisions. Columbus City Schools has adopted a universal masking requirement for K through 12, while Pickerington schools have decided to make masking optional.