As COVID-19 cases have continued to increase from week to week, some school districts that previously announced masks would be recommended but not required have pivoted to implementing a mask mandate, just days before school is set to start.
Three of the Tri-State region's largest districts -- Lakota, Mason and Middletown -- have made changes to their mask policies within the past week.
Lakota Local Schools' mandate was issued on Monday and some parents said they're feeling blindsided by the sudden change only a few days before the first day of school.
"I was completely shocked and stunned because last I had heard, as of a couple of weeks ago, that was not going to be a requirement," said Laura Gaines, a Lakota parent.
Students in K-12 at Lakota are now required to wear masks while indoors. Superintendent Matt Miller said the district made the decision after he and other district leaders in the area, including Mason Schools, received a letter signed by hundreds of local doctors.
"To have, you know, 350ish doctors in the area saying if you don't mandate masks you're gonna contribute to community spread, and we're seeing it in other states and other places. It's not strictly an Ohio issue," said Miller.
Miller said the district is also following the lead of local and state health departments, which recently changed its guidance on when students need to quarantine.
"We're actually, in Lakota, trying to play the long game. We want to keep our kids in school as long as possible, and to do that we need to mask up," he said.
Under new guidance from the Ohio Department of Health, students don't need to quarantine if they wear a mask in classrooms, desks are three feet apart and the school has proper sanitizing procedures and ventilation in place.
So far this school year, Mason City Schools, which only recently pivoted to requiring masks in K-6 classes, said the district has seen 59 quarantines since school began last Thursday -- less than one week ago.
"So, not so much that students were getting sick, but that we would find that healthy students would end up having to stay home when they were exposed to a positive case," said Tracey Carson, public information officer for the district.
Gaines said, in the end, she feels she and her son have been cheated. He's willing to mask up for another school year, but the pair said they aren't happy about it.
"I was hoping not to have my son vaccinated," said Gaines. "But then I did. I felt obligated, because I thought if I went through with that, they wouldn't force the masks. But I feel really cheated, because I did something that I didn't want to do so that he wouldn't have to be masked and now he still has to be."
Lakota Schools return to classrooms on Wednesday. District officials said they plan to monitor cases and data from local and state health departments and, in the future, possibly return to optional masking.