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OEA, citing data, calls for school districts to issue temporary mask mandates

[September 7, 2021] The Ohio Education Association today urged local school district leaders to temporarily require all students and staff to wear masks in school buildings until the current wave of the COVID-19 Delta variant significantly subsides.

“We are now seeing a record numbers of kids with COVID-19 and hospitalized in ICUs throughout Ohio and the nation,” said OEA President Scott DiMauro. “It is clear from the data we have gathered that the Delta variant poses far greater risk for our students, especially those who have not been vaccinated,” he continued, adding that more than half of all Ohio students aren’t even eligible for vaccinations.

Across the state, there are a growing number of districts in which large numbers of students, teachers, and staff – even entire grades have had to stay home from school because they have contracted COVID-19 or must quarantine due to their close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. However, Ohio Department of Health guidance allows for unvaccinated individuals to remain in school if they have consistently worn a mask and maintained social distancing. Therefore, had there been a mask wearing policy been in-place at the time of these exposures, it is likely that many of these quarantines could have been avoided.

On September 2, the state reported 4,446 new COVID-19 cases among Ohio school students, and 873 cases among school staff. So far this school year, there have been 7,705 cases involving students and 2,254 cases among school employees. The number of cases is increasing daily.

“We want in-person learning to continue unabated,” DiMauro said. “However, without widespread student vaccinations, the only way for that to happen safely for students is temporarily requiring masking in schools.”

COVID-related school disruption data compiled by OEA show that 16 of the 17 disruptions OEA has tracked were in districts that made masks optional. Delta has hit districts of all shapes and sizes from Huber Heights in Montgomery County to Shelby City in Richland County to Bethel-Tate in Clermont County. Typically, when these spikes do happen, districts immediately call for masking. Unfortunately, that may be too late to slow the spread of the incredibly contagious Delta variant.

“No one. And I mean no one wants to be back to normal more than our educators, students and parents,” DiMauro said. “But this pandemic is not over yet. Temporarily requiring masks in school buildings will allow in-person learning to continue.

“Our focus is to ensure students remain learning in school the whole year,” DiMauro said. “We believe the data show that mask requirements give us the best chance to see that happen. Without them, we fear we’d be looking at another school year of disrupted learning for an entire generation of Ohio students. And no one wants that.”