BLANCHESTER, Ohio — The Blanchester Public Schools board of education voted Monday night to relax its masking rules, directly contradicting the Ohio Department of Health's masking requirements for educational settings.
The Ohio Education Association, a statewide teachers union, has questions.
“Why this? Why now?" said OEA president Scott DiMauro on Tuesday. "Why not continue to follow the state and the CDC and the medical community’s clear guidance?”
Currently, the state of Ohio requires students to wear masks in and outside during school functions. Exemptions can be granted for health or religious reasons, eating and drinking, or participating in sports, among other reasons.
Blanchester's board voted to immediately allow students and staff to remove their masks outdoors and on buses with a window open. On June 1, the district will also allow students and staff to remove masks indoors.
“It seems blatantly illegal, but it’s also just poor judgment,” said DiMauro. “There is still significant spread of COVID.”
Superintendent Dean Lynch warned the board of the potential for negative reactions before Monday night's vote.
He sent board members this letter:
Board member Jeremy Kaehler disagreed and voted in favor the policy change.
“What we've been hearing is, people are fed up," he said. "They're sick of the mask policy. We've had some people who have expressed concerns about their child's health over the mask policy, parents who want their kids in school but don't want their kids to be forced to wear a mask.”
Some families in the area backed him up.
“They're always constantly thinking about that mask on their face, pushing it down,” said Jackie Blevins, who has 16 grandchildren in Blanchester schools. “And, you know, they’re pulling on it all the time. So, what good does it do?”
The OEA said the district should wait on the state to change guidelines.
“What problem are they trying to solve here?” said DiMauro. “We know that masks have worked to contain the spread of the virus throughout the year. We are getting closer to the end of the school year. This will be an opportunity to reassess the situation locally and state wide.”
Only one board member, Kathy Gephart, voted against the policy change. She said she would prefer to follow the medical community’s advice.
Here's the district's new policy in full: