‘These children are entitled to breathe free air’: Geauga County school board meeting heats up over mask mandate

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CHESTERLAND, Ohio (WJW) – It was standing room only at the West Geauga Local Schools Board of Education Meeting Monday night.

So many people showed up for the meeting that it had to be moved to the middle school gymnasium.

More than 125 parents were in the crowd, and all but a handful were clearly upset over the district’s mask mandate for the start of the upcoming school year.

“I’m very capable of making my own decisions regarding my children’s health care,” said one father. “You’ve taken my parental duty away.”

The policy, which was updated on August 19, states that the district will continue requiring “masks at its’ indoor facilities through October 22, 2021,” as well as maintaining a minimum of three feet social distancing, as recommended by the Ohio Department of Health.

In the letter, the superintendent calls the guidelines “fluid” and says they’re “subject to change based on recommendations of local, state and federal experts.”

“We understand this is a divisive issue, and our priority is to balance the needs and concerns of our students, faculty staff and the community,” School Board President Chet Ramey said during the meeting.

However, multiple parents cited issues with the facial coverings–from some children have difficulty breathing to cleanliness and contamination challenges, especially with young kids.

“These children are entitled to breathe free air. Let them,” shouted one mom.

Another mom, who is also an educator, said it’s not just the policy, but that parents were left out of the decision-making process.

“There was no parent survey sent out,” said Christina Sherwood, “And they just want to have that choice for their kids.” 

Other parents questioned the board’s authority implementing the policy and threatened to take legal action against the board if their children were forced to wear a mask.

A handful of people wearing masks and proponents of the guidelines did not speak at the meeting.

After more than an hour of speakers, the board attempted to move on with the scheduled agenda, but parents clearly weren’t done raising their voices and some continued shouting at the members.

The board then moved the meeting behind closed doors, with the mask guidelines remaining in place for now.

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