Geauga County school board rescinds district’s mask mandate

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MIDDLEFIELD, Ohio – As COVID-19 cases surge across the region again, a Geauga County school board has voted to rescind a policy requiring students to wear masks in schools. 

The Cardinal Local Schools Board of Education voted Wednesday to end a mask requirement put in place by the district superintendent last week ahead of the start of the school year. 

Superintendent Bill Kermavner said he implemented the mask mandate because COVID quarantines were already impacting nearly a quarter of students entering 5th grade, following a student orientation.  

“That was the first eye-opener to say, ‘Wow, this is impacting kids, a lot of kids, for Cardinal,’” Kermavner.  

He said he implemented the policy based on recommendations from local, state and federal health officials and to reduce the extent of student quarantines that would be needed in cases of COVID exposure in classrooms.

Guidance from the Ohio Department of Health has said limited quarantines are needed in classrooms where masks are worn, but more extensive quarantines are needed in classrooms without masks. 

“That would make sure kids could get an in-person education without a disruption, along with keeping them safe,” Kermavner said.  

At Wednesday night’s board of education meeting, a majority of parents who commented said masking should be left up to them.

The board voted by a narrow three-to-two margin to rescind the mandate. Masks will remain mandatory on school buses, as required under federal rules. 

Board members Barb Rayburn, Linda Smallwood and Katie Thomas voted against requiring masks in schools, while Board President Ken Klima and Vice President Wendy Anderson voted in favor of continuing the policy requiring masks.  

Thomas declined to comment, and Rayburn and Smallwood did not respond to a request for comment.  

Klima said doing something is better than doing nothing to prevent the spread of COVID in the district.  

“I care very much for the safety of our children and staff. We have to do as much as we can to help with keeping people safe,” he said in a statement.  

Anderson noted that students without masks will lead to more extensive quarantines under health department guidance, which may affect in-person education.

“I am charged as a BOE member to educate our children the best possible way and keep them safe,” she said in a statement to FOX 8. “There is no way to make everyone happy in this situation.” 

Kermavner said he believes masks, which were mandatory in Ohio schools last year, allowed Cardinal to continue in-person education the entire year by reducing the spread of COVID.  

“I hope I was wrong on the mask mandate because I do not want kids to get sick,” he said.  

He said Cardinal may now have to develop less stringent quarantine rules than those called for by ODH in order to try to maintain in-person education as cases and exposure climb. 

“We need to keep all students and staff as safe as possible while doing that,” Kermavner said. “That’s not going to be an easy chore.”  

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