Starting Wednesday, Aug. 25, Pre-K through sixth-grade students at Kings Local Schools will be required to wear face masks inside school buildings. It’s the latest school district to adjust their COVID-19 safety policies in response to growing concerns about the delta variant.
The board passed the mandate by a 3-2 vote after nearly an hour of discussion.
“We do take this seriously,” Kings Local Schools board president Stacie Belfrom said. “There is no answer that we would come up with here that is going to make everyone happy.”
The latest data from the Ohio Department of Health shows that out of all of Ohio’s 88 counties, Warren County ranks third when it comes to the rate of COVID-19 cases among people under the age of 18. Currently, the county has a rate of more than 6,000 cases per 100,000 children.
Public comment was not on the agenda for Tuesday night’s special board of education meeting at Kings Local Schools, but a few dozen community members showed up to make their presence known.
“We can’t snap our fingers and get rid of COVID, but we can at least do what we can to make things better,” Kings Local Schools parent Kim Chambers said.
The district said 489 families filled out an online survey ahead of the meeting, making their feelings known on the issue.
Before Tuesday’s vote requiring masks for students in Pre-K through sixth grade, masks had been optional for students district-wide.
The two school board members who voted against the requirement, Dan Egan and Deb Cowen, shared concerns about not having clear guidelines on when the policy should be re-evaluated.
“This isn’t an easy choice for any of us,” Cowen said. “And I know we all want to do the right thing. That’s what’s hard.”
The majority of the discussion involved the quarantine policy set by the Ohio Department of Education – which has already impacted more than 60 students and teachers at Kings Local after just two days with all students back in class. If students are all masked and kept 3 feet apart, then quarantine is not necessary.
“I personally would have preferred to have a district-wide mask mandate,” parent and board of education candidate Kim Chambers said. "On the other hand, this is better than nothing. This is a step in the right direction."
Some parents present argued that the masks would interfere with some students’ ability to learn.
“The kids need to be able to see and know each other,” Board of Education candidate Karen Burton said. “And some teachers also, they don’t know how to teach kindergarten and first grade, especially the reading and phonetics. You need to see the mouth.”