Orange City School District Superintendent Lynn Campbell last week announced a mask requirement for students, staff and visitors. The mandate went into effect on Monday and is applicable when people are indoors, including on buses, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Other districts are following the same path including the Kenston Local School District that put a mask mandate into effect on Tuesday.

The mask mandate drew criticism from four parents at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. They said that the decision to wear a mask or not should be up to the parents, adding that masks are not effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The parents said that children are not impacted by the virus and they could be negatively affected by wearing a mask, such as psychological and social consequences.

“While we do appreciate that there are differing points of view on whether we should or should not mask, the guidance given to the superintendents from the local public health authority, which we’ve been relying on all along, they track data and [share] research, that’s where we are,” Dr. Campbell said.

Brian Lenzo of Moreland Hills said that masks should be a parental choice, not a requirement from the school district. There are many studies showing the negative health effects from wearing masks, but not a single study proving that masks do prevent the spread of COVID-19, he said. Mr. Lenzo said that more children under age 18 died of the flu than from COVID-19.

Christina Weiss of Pepper Pike, a parent of 5-year-old twins, asked the school board to reconsider the mask mandate. She said it is a “blessing” that children have not been impacted by COVID-19. She listed several damaging impacts from wearing a mask, including psychological, developmental, social and physical issues. Children need to clearly see and hear their teacher to learn effectively.

“Life is not devoid of risks,” Ms. Weiss said. “It’s a risk getting in your car and driving, it’s a risk letting your kid ride the bike to school, it’s a risk letting them swim. The issue in masks [on] children should be a risk-benefit analysis done by the parents and families, not by the school board.”

Pepper Pike resident Nicole Raimo said that people are allowed to have second opinions in America and have the option of going against medical advice. She said she understands that the school board is in a difficult position of listening to contradictory information, which is why they should leave the masking decision up to the parents.

“I support the superintendent’s decision but that doesn’t mean that we’re not considering these materials that are brought [to us],” board member Jeff Leikin said later in the meeting. “It doesn’t mean that different situations may not change things.”

Toby Rosenberg of Pepper Pike said that she teaches her six children the importance of having a strong immune system by eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep. Masks are like a “Band-Aid,” she said, and wearing a mask goes against her family’s belief system.

“We are aware of the points of view of both opponents and proponents of masking this fall,” Dr. Campbell wrote in his email to parents on Aug. 5. “However, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, our local public health authority, recommend following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance which is largely based on the COVID-19 Delta variant’s higher rate of spread among both vaccinated individuals and children.

“Therefore, masking indoors is an effort to safely maintain as much full-time in-person learning as possible and to avoid time out of school due to quarantine for students and staff. Building-wide masking greatly reduces the likelihood of quarantine based on current Ohio Department of Health quarantine guidance,” he wrote.

Of the eligible students at Brady Middle School, parents reported that 75 percent of them intend to get the vaccine before school starts on Aug. 23, according to an anonymous survey the district conducted this summer. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for children ages 12 and up. About 73 percent of Orange High School students plan to get vaccinated, Dr. Campbell said.

Board of Education President Rebecca Boyle noted the difference in quarantine time for people who are masked or unmasked. The quarantine time is lesser if there is universal masking throughout the school building. Dr. Campbell said that the district will use a policy of seven quarantine days with a COVID-19 test on day five or after.

“Unlike last year, we don’t have the online option. So if they’re out, they’re out,” board member Scott Bilsky said. Last year, quarantined students could join their classes virtually. The district is not offering a virtual option this year.

Board member Beth Wilson-Fish said that it is easier for the district to start with a mask mandate and ease up later rather than have COVID-19 outbreaks and quarantines then implement a mask mandate. The goal is to keep children in school, board members said.

The next school board meeting is Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Pepper Pike Learning Center, 32000 Chagrin Blvd.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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