CINCINNATI — Some COVID-19-related changes could be coming for Cincinnati Public Schools students when they return to the classroom next month. But, as of right now at least, students and staff will be required to wear masks when inside.
The Board of Education met Monday night to discuss its safety plan for the upcoming school year. The district's health and safety committee made a host of recommendations, including ending staggered bus arrivals and temperature checks at building entrances. The mask rules have remained in effect since last school year, and the committee recommended masks remain when indoors.
Adults and teenagers across the country have had access to the shot since spring, but a large share of CPS’ students still can’t be vaccinated, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved a vaccine for anyone under the age of 12.
Hours before the school board meeting, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a new recommendation that everyone over the age of 2 continue to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.
“Our little kids are used to wearing masks,” said Jane Simon, who teaches at the K-12 School for Creative & Performing Arts. “It's not a problem. They come to school, they grab their book bag, they grab their lunch box, and they grab their mask."
Meanwhile, the district is watching the progress of Ohio Senate Bill 209. The bill would prohibit the state or individual school districts from requiring masks.
"I think it's something that we should consider," CPS Board Member Mike Moroski said. "Something to keep our eye on."
If mask requirements remain in effect, school board President Carolyn Jones said she worries about enforcement.
"What happens when people outright refuse to wear masks?" Jones said. "I don't want to kick people out of school, but I think we have to continue to be very firm."
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center vaccine expert Dr. Robert Frenck said he understands fatigue with masking, but he said it’s effective. And masks are the best way for people who cannot be vaccinated to keep themselves and others safe.
"For kids that are under 12, where we don't have a vaccine available yet, the social distancing and the masking, that is very effective,” Frenck said. “It’s close to 85 percent effective. It's a pain to do that, and people are getting tired of doing that, but it works."
Meanwhile, the health and safety committee requested multiple changes to the district's policy:
- Temperature checks at building entrances eliminated.
- Staggered bus arrival and departure eliminated.
- Field trips permitted.
- Visitors and volunteers permitted but must follow all safety protocols.
- Work-related travel permitted.
- Shared materials permitted.
- Distancing during meals at a 3-foot minimum.
- Close contacts continue to quarantine if unvaccinated and symptom-free.
All hygiene and cleaning precautions would still be followed, as well.
Board member Eve Bolton said getting students and staff vaccinated is the key to keeping the schools open — regardless of the safety precautions put in place. So far, around 70 percent of CPS staff members have been vaccinated.
School officials will be monitoring vaccination numbers and other data closely along with changing guidance from health professionals. The district plans to make changes to the policies if new information and recommendations are given.
"Many things are changing constantly," said Sarah Trimble-Oliver, chief strategy officer for CPS. "We'd appreciate being able to continue the conversation as the data changes and as new guidance changes."