In the wake of conflicting guidance from local health departments, Chagrin Falls schools will continue requiring masks indoors for unvaccinated students and staff through the remainder of the academic year in accordance with Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement.

On June 2, Gov. DeWine repealed COVID-19 mandates involving masks and some mitigation measures, with a few exceptions including senior care or medical establishments.

During the Chagrin Board of Education meeting that same evening, Superintendent Robert Hunt explained that despite the governor’s announcement stating that those not fully vaccinated, including students under the age of 12, should “continue to wear masks indoors and follow other preventative measures to keep themselves as healthy as possible,” Geauga and Lake health departments recommended no masks for students under 12.

“That obviously flies directly in the face of what the governor’s statement said this morning regarding masking,” Dr. Hunt said following his recommendation that all unvaccinated individuals must continue wearing masks with the exception of outdoor instruction or on the playground for the Summer Learning Lab.

The Summer Learning Lab is the district’s summer schooling program to assist with gap closing as it relates to students who may have fallen behind as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program officially started Tuesday.

While the Cuyahoga County Board of Health has been “fairly quiet” in relation to a public statement on masking, Dr. Hunt said, the department did support Chagrin’s masking plans.

“I’m recommending this plan because we’ve got conflicting information,” he said, adding, “I feel like this [conflict] has to shake itself out” before making changes.

“I point-blank asked [Lake and Geauga health departments]: How could you put something out this contradictory to what the governor stated?,” Dr. Hunt told the board. “Essentially, at this point, [their answer] was: ‘There’s no order. They’re just our recommendations for your consideration.’

“So, it’s all floating back to locals to make these decisions,” he added.

The board approved Dr. Hunt’s recommendation, acknowledging that it may be subject to change upon the availability of more information or changes in vaccination eligibility.

Board member Sharon Broz noted the conflicting information is “problematic” and agreed “that waiting to see how things shake out is the right course of action right now.”

“It’s a no-end situation, but I think we have to go with the conservative approach, and the students have been wearing masks all year. I think overwhelmingly it went fine,” board member Mary Kay O’Toole agreed. “We did have 154 students in our district that had COVID this year, so for the people who still don’t think it exists, it does. Hopefully it’s going away, but until we really have a little more evidence that it’s done or a little more direction, I think we stay the course.”

Dr. Hunt said the plan will be reevaluated in July upon gathering more information.

Board Vice President Kathryn Garvey asked what the quarantine requirements would be in the event a summer lab student tests positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Hunt said the same 10-day quarantine requirement would remain in place for those who are unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated individuals, he said, would not need to quarantine if exposed.

He added that the district will still have spacing restrictions in effect to avoid close exposures in the event of a positive case in a classroom, acknowledging Mrs. Garvey’s concern of how 10 days of quarantine could severely impact the summer program for a student.

“We still [are] recognizing and acknowledging those mitigation strategies. I’d point out that I think it’s three weeks in a row that we’ve had zero cases, so the numbers are trending really well, [for] our quarantines as well as positive cases,” Dr. Hunt said. “I understand this is conservative; I would just like a little more clarity before we jump on a [new] recommendation for our younger students.”

Sam joined the Times in 2019 and covers several communities and schools in the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County. She also oversees the features/community events and the website. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University.

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