On August 17, in addition to the increasing cases and close contacts, during a joint press conference, Ohio Governor DeWine and Director of the Ohio Department of Health Dr. Vanderhoff made a plea for schools to institute masking requirements. They said:
“If that child cannot be vaccinated, then the best way to ensure a good school year is for that child to wear a mask in class,” said Governor DeWine.
“Delta isn’t just a danger to adults. While children are less likely than adults to get severely ill from COVID-19, they are not invincible and most certainly can, and do, become ill. And, indeed, our children’s hospitals continue to see tragic cases of previously healthy children struck down by this virus and now requiring intensive medical care. And, of course, when either children or adults become sick from COVID-19, they can spread it to others who may then suffer severe health outcomes or even death, said Dr. Vanderhoff. “The bottom line is that COVID-19 is a very bad virus, even for our children. Without question, vaccinations are the best protection one can have from COVID-19.”
Governor Dewine followed up the press conference with this tweet. “To all those who are making decisions right now about our schools, if you are not requiring masks, please think about this again. At the very least, consider requiring masks for the next few weeks when we know the spread level will be very high,” said Governor DeWine.
We learned during last school year that as the community case rate increases so do the number of cases in our schools and the number of students that need to quarantine. Since vaccines are not available to our PK- 6 students, masks become the primary decision point for quarantine purposes. In a mask optional environment, contact tracing becomes even more difficult, ultimately leading to more individuals being quarantined, thus defeating our goal.
Since our students in grades 7-12 have the option of receiving the vaccine, we chose to simply reinforce the recommendation of public health and not mandate masks at this time. If case rates continue to increase or a large number of students are forced to quarantine, we may revisit the decision to mandate masks for grades 7 - 12.
As the number of vaccinated individuals changes, case rates improve, the positivity rate normalizes, and our experience base grows during the school year, we will be in a better position to consider returning to a mask optional environment.
Q: Does the district offer mask-only classrooms at the middle and high schools?
A: Based on course offerings and the individual academic needs of students, this is not a practical option. The layered protocols we have in place, which include a strong recommendation for mask-wearing and physical distancing, significantly reduce risk and the possible need to quarantine without compromising academic options. As circumstances and beliefs change, so might a student or parent’s decision to wear a mask in a mask-friendly environment.
Q: What does it mean to have 'mask breaks' at recess?
A: We follow CDC guidelines and do allow students to remove their masks at recess, but ask them to keep their masks on when they are in close proximity with other students. The CDC guidelines include:
Recess is considered an extension of the classroom environment. Maintain the protocols for 3 feet social distance outside (with a goal of 6 feet) when students are at play in groups and/or in close contact.
Mask breaks are appropriate when controlled and social distance can be maintained.
When students are taking masks off at recess, it is important that there is a procedure in place to maintain social distance outside during the school day to the greatest extent possible. Stated simply, recess cannot be a 'free for all' with no masks for the safety of our students.
If you have questions, please contact your child's building principal for further clarification.
Q: How does the school district confirm or verify vaccination status?
A: Parents are welcome to volunteer their child’s vaccination status for quarantine purposes. School nurses may also coordinate with Franklin County Public Health concerning quarantine requirements. If vaccine status cannot be verified, the individual will need to quarantine according to ODH guidelines.
Q: Why is SWCSD not offering VLA this school year?
A: Last year, SWCSD provided the Virtual Learning Academy for approximately 2,365 students. We were given permission to offer this option as a result of House Bill 164, which gave public school districts in the State of Ohio the flexibility to offer a fully online school experience as an emergency measure. HB 164 expired and as a result, we do not have the ability to offer this option to our students and families in the same manner as last school year. Additionally, HB 110 went into effect this school year and created stronger restrictions that push schools towards in-person/traditional modes of instruction five days per week.
In addition, as a collective, our students choosing the virtual option last school year did not perform as well on state assessments and classroom grades. Creating this option also resulted in limiting curricular options for many students.
Q: If the district isn’t offering VLA this school year, what are my options?
A: The Ohio Department of Education provides various school options at http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Ohio-Education-Options.
Q: What does the school board resolution authorizing the superintendent to require face coverings for students, staff, and visitors accomplish? Has the board of education given away its authority?
A: The resolution allows the superintendent to enforce and quickly pivot based on circumstances to prevent the spread of communicable diseases for the safety of students and staff. The board has the ability to rescind, revise, or override decisions at any time.
Q: Is the district using sneeze guards on desks or lunch tables?
A: Sneeze guards (individual plastic dividers) are available for use in each building.
Q: How will the learning process be supported when a student is quarantined?
A: Schoolwork will be treated as it has always been treated for any type of multi-day excused absence. The teacher should be able to provide students with content/assignments to stay current with their work.
Q: What mask exemptions are available to parents?
A: There are two types of exemptions available to parents. These are the same exemptions that were in place last school year.
To request a religious exemption, parents may submit a written request for accommodations or exemptions based on sincerely held religious beliefs to Amber Hufford (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Jamie Lusher (email@example.com) for review and vetting. These requests should include the reason for the accommodation, contact information for the church, and religious entity. These requests will be reviewed and vetted as they are received.
To request a medical waiver for the mask requirement, parents should submit a request that includes medical documentation and their physician's contact information to Amber Hufford (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Jamie Lusher (email@example.com). This will start the medical exemption process.
Q: Does the district intend to require COVID vaccinations for students or staff?
A: The district strongly encourages eligible individuals to get vaccinated. At this time, we are not requiring a COVID vaccination to attend or work in our schools.
Q: Are latchkey children required to wear masks?
A: These programs are not held during school hours and are voluntary. They are also not SWCSD programs and are subject to the sponsoring latchkey organization's protocols and procedures..
Q: Can I select a vaccinated teacher for my child?
A: We are prohibited from sharing the vaccine status of students and staff due to FERPA and HIPAA regulations.
Q: Isn’t the requirement for students in grades PK-6 discriminating against those who cannot receive the vaccine (HB244)?
A: As a public school district in the state of Ohio, we have a compelling state interest in health and safety and the prevention of infectious disease. Currently, there is a federal mandate from the Centers for Disease Control that requires all persons to wear face masks on any mass transportations, including school buses (https://www.cdc.gov/). The board resolution authorizing the Superintendent to require facial coverings is grounded by Ohio Revised Code Section 3313.67.