Protests build as school year approaches and districts weigh potential mask mandates

Posted at 5:24 PM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 08:04:44-04

ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Nicole Giordano doesn't want to have to pull her son out of Turpin High School, but she said she will if the Forest Hills Board of Education votes to make masks mandatory at district schools this year.

"I told him at the end of this school year, I let you do this for a year," she said. "But if this happens again, we're not doing this."

Board members were expected to make a decision at their meeting Wednesday night on whether they would require students, staff and visitors to mask up. And — as other groups have organized in other parts of the Tri-State both Wednesday and in recent days — protesters are expected to organize in support or opposition of such a decision.

Similar protests were planned outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and in Oxford, Ohio, near Miami University's campus.

"It affects their attention span," she told WCPO. "It makes them sleepy. It can give them anxiety. I feel really bad for my son because he wants to be with his friends, but I also want him to breathe healthy."

Another district mom, who is also an emergency physician, said she'd also consider pulling her kids from the district but for the opposite reason as Giordano.

"It's common sense that, you know, wear a mask, don't spread the virus," said Dr. Ruth Hartjen, who said she's exploring online options for her kids if the board of education does not mandate masks. "We're talking about that not only the immediate health and well-being of our children. We're also talking about a healthcare system simply is at its break."

Political science professor Dr. Ryan Salzman, who teaches at Northern Kentucky University, said the uptick in protests in recent days is no surprise.

"I think we're probably at a high point for the mask mandates themselves because of the delta variant and because schools are going back in," Salzman said.

Unlike in Kentucky, where on Tuesday Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order requiring all public and private schools to require masks in school buildings, Ohio so far has left the decision up to local school districts. Salzman said that could make protests like those expected outside the Forest Hills Board of Education chamber Wednesday more impactful.

"In Ohio, there's these mask mandates, where they do exist, are being implemented more at the local level," Salzman said. "So, therefore, having protests at school board meetings may lead, you know, have a higher likelihood of leading to change."