Northeast Ohio school districts consider lifting mask mandates for last days of class


INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (WJW)– The countdown is on until most of Ohio’s COVID-19-related health orders are lifted on June 2, but that’s putting school districts across the state in a difficult position.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine left it up to the individual districts to decide whether to keep the mask mandates in place.

Independence Local Schools Superintendent Ben Hegedish said almost immediately they began getting calls and emails, “Staff and parent feedback right away. What does this mean, does that mean we’re done with masks?”

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Hegedish said they are still carefully weighing all of the information and feedback from parents and staff members.

One mom who spoke at the meeting nearly broke down in tears talking about the impact the masks have had on her 5-year-old son.

“I cannot tell you how hard it’s been picking him crying every day,” she said.

She and more than 100 parents started a Facebook page pushing for the mask mandate to be lifted.

Hegedish said he understands both sides of this very divisive issue and has heard from districts across the state also grappling with it.

“There are a number of districts that are relaxing and making masks optional, and I’m also seeing districts keep their mask policies in place through the end of the school year,” he said.

In Portage County, Field Local Schools Superintendent David Heflinger announced their decision last week in a video posted on YouTube.

“Starting Wednesday, June 2 no more masks in school, no masks required in school, staff and students if they feel more comfortable and want to wear a mask, certainly may still wear a mask, but we will no longer require masks starting on June 2,” Heflinger said.

But some parents are upset. Aubree Uhler, whose daughter is in the seventh grade, asked the superintendent to bring back the mask mandate until more of the students are fully vaccinated.

“I just don’t think that’s a safe thing to have our kids do at this time,” Uhler said. “Because it’s only like a week and a half left of school. The kids have been doing it all year round and then come fall it may be safer.”

In a statement sent to FOX 8 the superintendent said, in part, “The Field Local School District has followed the directives of the Ohio Department of Health, the Governor and local health department throughout the pandemic. It is our belief if the governor and ODH explicitly wanted schools to continue wearing masks they would continue to make it a mandate.”

As for Independence, superintendent Hegedish said they are still considering all options and will inform parents as soon as they reach a decision; making students health and safety top priority.

“I think there’s probably a ceremonial freedom that comes with taking that mask off and it’s been a burden in schools this year, but at the same time, we’ve seen zero transmission of COVID cases in our mask settings this year,” Hegedish, said. “The question is, is it worth changing our policy for four days?”

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