By Linda Dillman
While several Central Ohio school districts mandate masks for all students or those currently ineligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Canal Winchester parents still have the choice to send their children to school with or without masks.
The only exception is on school transportation, where masks are required by the CDC for public and private school buses.
Arguments for and against masks in schools dominated the Aug. 16 Canal Winchester Board of Education meeting. However, when it came down to a final vote to continue with a plan recommending, but not mandating masks, or require masks for pre-K through eighth grade, the vote was 4-1, with board member Monika Talley as the lone dissenter.
“As a parent, I’m going to send my children to school with a mask,” Talley said. “Masking is the best preventative we have for younger children. I would like to know that I’m doing the most I can do to protect others, to protect the children. We can do better.”
Board member Jon Metzler, who admitted he was strongly in favor of masks, said both sides of the issue make strong arguments, but he felt it was important to give families the option regarding masks.
Contending the lack of metrics and ambivalence across the state and nation regarding a defined line when to mandate masks was one of the primary reasons board member Matt Krueger supports the current policy.
“I think they’re (parents) informed enough that what fits their family,” said Krueger. “It’s something they should have the option, not me. Right now, there is no metric. We’re making a decision and we don’t even know where the line is. That’s my frustration. They want us five board members to make a decision for the district, but yet no one’s given us any metrics or line to step on or not step on.”
Krueger said, as a father, if his children were in elementary school, he would send them to class with a mask, but he would not impose what he would do on another family. He also wanted to know what the district planned to do if they required masks and students refused.
Superintendent James Sotlar said it was not a dress code issue, but a health issue, and, while there are choices, such as detention or sending a child home, he questioned whether those options were the best response.
“Do we punish them for something their parents don’t want them to do?” asked Sotlar. “We always have layers before we get to the actual consequences and try to do that up front. We are currently operating under it (mask wearing) is strongly recommended, but not required that students wear masks. We are not telling people not to wear masks, but there is no mask mandate out there right now in the state of Ohio.”
Prior to the board’s discussion, parents shared their opinions, including an elementary school mother advocating for masks who has a second grader and a three-year-old who was the first child in Franklin County to contract Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome after an asymptomatic case of COVID-19.
The three-year-old experienced a year-long litany of testing, treatment, blood draws, ultrasounds, CAT scans and MRIs.
Parent Tom Marker said he strongly disapproved of the current policy and acknowledged that a universal mask policy would make things easier for everyone.
“I feel like we’ve been given the choice to potentially send our child to an unsafe environment,” said Harker. “My family is looking to enroll in an online program this year which really hurts all of us. We want our kid to go back to (public) school. I just don’t see how it’s a good choice right now. I know there are many concerned parents. I know you’re doing your best, but I think the current choice is misguided.”