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BLANCHESTER, Ohio (WJW) — It is perhaps the first school district in the state to break with the state’s overall mask policy.

Starting May 4, students in the Blanchester Local Schools near Cincinnati were no longer required to wear masks at school sponsored outdoor activities or on buses as long as the windows are open.

And next month they’re taking things a step further.

“Come June 1 no masks will be required throughout the district inside, indoors or outdoors,” Superintendent Dean Lynch said.

WJW photo

Lynch tells FOX 8 by phone that the school board based its decision on updated CDC guidelines and what they call “overwhelming community support” to cut back on mask use in the district of about 1,400 students.

Lynch says the board decided to move forward even though the state has not lifted the mask mandate.

“That’s going to be the question that has to be answered I guess. Our school board has called to question that decision, is it law or isn’t it? Can we do it, can’t we do it? That’s the million-dollar question.” Lynch said.

But even though people may be sick of mask wearing, experts say they’re still very effective. Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda says masks do work, and have been very effective in cutting down the spread of COVID-19 even with children.

“I think what’s been hard for individuals is we’d like to throw our masks away and forget them and we’re all tired of them, but I think this is a purpose for a mask and it’s to protect you and the other person,” Skoda said

Skoda says the CDC has relaxed some of its guidelines for wearing masks outdoors, but close contact indoors still poses a great risk for the spread of COVID-19 and it’s more contagious variants.

She says she’s not surprised about the decision in Blanchester. With new variants she thinks it may be too early now to stop mask wearing, but it will be a long summer of decisions for many for the next school year. 

“I think we’re going to see a lot more of that happening and I think next year school districts are going to have some hard choices to make about whether or not they’ll mask again or not,” Skoda said. 

FOX 8 reached out to both the Ohio Department of Education and Department of Health for comment about the Blanchester move but have not heard back.

While the school board voted four to one in favor of making masks optional, the district’s teacher’s union spoke out against it, citing health concerns for classroom teachers and school staff.