Chardon Local School District officials are letting parents decide whether their children should wear a mask in school.

Superintendent Michael P. Hanlon announced last Friday in a letter to families that facial coverings will remain an optional policy, although they are “strongly recommended indoors.”

Masks have been a controversial topic nationwide linked to the coronavirus pandemic with disagreement on whether they should be required.

A discussion on masks was on the board’s Monday agenda but removed after an emotional meeting on Aug. 10 seeking input from parents. The result was multiple options for the board to consider on Monday. Ultimately, the board decided to stick with the July decision making masks optional.

BOE President Madeline Horvath said on Monday that the board has struggled with this for weeks with opinions changing as information changes.

“Our first priority is and always has been the well-being of our kids. Although I believe that personally masking would improve their safety,” she said, “it puts [students] in the middle of a firestorm and raises questions about how we would enforce it, given the current division in the community, and the lack of a mandate from a higher power.

“With the Delta variant proliferating, health professionals are saying they’re seeing younger people in their 30s as well as kids, both teens and younger getting sick,” Mrs. Horvath said. “I’m worried that when they all gather in classroom we will see more of our students or staff getting sick or spreading it to their families.”

Many parents “are adamant that they do not want their children” wearing masks in class, she continued. They “cite their rights as parents to make that choice and they have to be respected.”

Mrs. Horvath also stated that this is a very difficult time in the country, state and the town. “People are angry and scared, a very bad combination,” said Mrs. Horvath.

“I continue to hope for a future where we unite against this virus, put others ahead of our own self-interest and can have differences of opinion without rudeness, I’m proud of what this board has accomplished by putting kids first, and I hope that we will all come through this with the wisdom born of difficulty, and with the love of our community and of our neighbors as a real part of who we are.”

Board member Paul Stefanko stated that the topic of requiring masks is emotionally charged and a lack of consistent accurate information has led to speculation and a multitude of opinions.

“I feel the best and most responsible authority on mask wearing is the parents or guardians of their children. Clearly these are concerns both wearing and not wearing masks and the parents should be the ones making that decision,” said Mr. Stefanko. “If the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] mandates otherwise, then the decision would be made for us, but until that day arrives parents should be the responsible ones for their children and make the decision whether or not to wear masks.”

In other business, the board approved an agreement with Mr. Excavator, Inc. in the amount of $35,000 for fine gravel spreading and detail grading related to the Memorial Field turf project.

Dr. Hanlon said the contractor, Field Turf, Inc., was to resume work related to the preparation of the base material but was unable to meet the deadline.

“Their contractor was unable to perform in a timely manner due to a COVID-19 outbreak,” said Dr. Hanlon. “Mr. Excavator was contracted to complete the prep work so that installation could continue.”

As a result of significant delays from the project, the Hilltoppers will not take to the home field until mid-season and will have to play their home opener against Glenville at Riverside High School.

Dr. Hanlon stated that the installation of this material is currently in process. “I do not have a target finish date as it is weather dependent and still a bit early to venture a guess.”

The district’s goal is to have a new surface for Memorial Field installed before the start of the 2021-2022 school year or shortly thereafter.

The Sept. 3 game against Youngstown Ursuline and the Sept. 10 game against Riverside are scheduled to be played at West Geauga’s field.

The board also approved a memorandum of understanding between the Chardon Local School District and the Chardon Education Association to hire a CEA member for an open temporary administrative position for the 2021-2022 school year.

Board members also approved contracts with Summit Education Service Center and Beech Brook for the 2021-2022 school year, as well as bus stops and driver certifications for the upcoming year.

Also approved was the use of the Petersen & Petersen law firm for general counsel for the district.

The Aug. 16 meeting was held in the large instructional room located at 424 North St., Chardon and via live stream. The next regular BOE meeting is Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

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