DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Oak Hills Local Schools held a meeting to discuss mask policy Monday night that was so highly attended by parents, students and community members it had to be moved from the district office to the auditorium at Rapid Run Middle School.
The meeting was repeatedly interrupted by heated arguments as people both for and against mandating masks in the district for the upcoming school year shared their thoughts with the school board.
"They're aggravated at school because they can't breathe right, they don't like the masks," said Patrick Beiting, a grandparent of an Oak Hills student and in favor of optional masks. "It's slowing down their education, in my opinion. It's just wrong."
The same debate is being had across many school districts in the Tri-State area, with mixed rules being implemented based on the decisions of each district. So far masks have been recommended in schools in Kentucky by Governor Andy Beshear, but no state in the region has mandated students mask up.
"This disease is still around and we need to be cautious and careful, particularly when we are inside," said Jennifer Cook, an Oak Hills parent and teacher who supported requiring masks in the district.
All five Oak Hills school board members said they would prefer the district to strongly recommend, but not require, masks for students and staff in the upcoming school year -- a choice the district ultimately chose to officially implement.
Superintendent Jeff Brandt said without orders from county, state or federal health officials, the choice will be up to parents and students.
"They've made it so they haven't made an order," he said. "So now it puts the communities at each other. And they put it on the Board of Education, to me that's unfair."
Following the meeting, the school district released a statement on the topic:
"The Oak Hills Local School District understands, appreciates and respects the right of parents and community members to express their opinion on issues related to the pandemic, including the use of masks in schools.
"Decisions surrounding the pandemic have an impact on the daily lives of all Americans, and everyone’s viewpoint should be heard and valued.
"The Oak Hills administration and Board of Education has, and will, take into consideration the views and concerns of parents, students, staff members and the community, along with medical experts and state and local officials as it makes decisions about policies and procedures related to the Coronavirus.
"These decisions are complicated and often involve issues and effects that are not obvious to the public, and sometimes even to state officials. Citizens are clearly divided on the issue of masks in particular, and no school district will make a decision on that topic that pleases everyone. Nevertheless, decisions have to be made.
"The Oak Hills school board and administration will weigh factors and listen to opinions but in the end will base the mask decision, as they do all decisions, on what is in the best interest of students and staff -- not only physically but also socially, emotionally and academically."