After several parents spoke up during the West Geauga Board of Education’s regular meeting last week opposed to COVID-19 protocol, Superintendent Richard Markwardt announced in a following Aug. 13 statement that masks or face shields will be required for all students, regardless of vaccination status, for the first quarter of the upcoming school year.

Citing the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Markwardt stated that by having masking and distancing protocols in place for the district’s indoor facilities, students can safely remain in in-person instruction and participate in extracurricular activities in the event of close contact with COVID-19 cases as long as they do not exhibit any symptoms.

“If school districts do not follow the ODH recommended protocols, including universal masking, such students and staff will be subject to quarantine orders from the health department for up to ten days,” he said. “The quarantine orders could result in multiple extended absences for students and staff and potential school closures.”

He said the district “believes that having school buildings open is in the best interest of our students and community,” which is why masking will be required for the first quarter, Aug. 25 through Oct. 22.

In addition to masking, the district will maintain a minimum of 3 feet social distancing as recommended by the ODH.

Masks will not be required for the district’s outdoor facilities, but will be strongly recommended for those who are not vaccinated.

“It is strongly recommended that individuals who are not fully vaccinated continue to follow federal, state and local health authority guidance regarding masking and social distancing, including but not limited to [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations that in areas of substantial to high transmission such individuals wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated,” according to the Aug. 13 update to the Superintendent’s Guidelines Regarding Use of Face Masks and Face Shields.

Masks will be required for all individuals on public transportation in accordance with CDC orders.

Dr. Markwardt said the requirements are to reduce the need for students and staff to quarantine, thus limiting the risk of school closures.

The board will revisit the masking policy prior to the end of the quarter, Oct. 22, “taking into consideration the recommendations of health-related agencies, community infection rates, school attendance data and the availability of a vaccine for those students who are currently too young to obtain one,” he stated.

“I am aware that the board’s stance will be received with both approval and disapproval,” Dr. Markwardt said in his statement. “I believe it is the right decision.”

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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