LEXINGTON -- A mask mandate for students and staff in Lexington Local Schools remains in place after a deadlocked school board Wednesday evening rejected a motion to lift it.
The 2-2 vote came after another two-plus hours of public comment both for and against the mandate, which the board voted 3-2 to put in place one month ago due to rising COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
Board member Rob Schuster made a motion to end the requirement for students and staff, which was seconded by Dr. Martin Gottschling. Those two voted against the mandate on Sept. 15, a vote which came after two hours of public comment.
Board members Keith Stoner and Dave Roberts, who voted in favor of the mask requirement last month, opposed lifting the mandate on Wednesday.
Board President Bob Whitney, who voted to put the mask requirement in place, was ill and didn't attend Wednesday's meeting.
The board is not scheduled to meet again until Nov. 17 and is likely to consider the issue again.
The district began the year allowing masks to be optional, but then moved to remote learning on Sept. 7 due to high levels of illness and absences related to COVID-19 among students and staff.
In-class learning resumed on Sept. 20 with the mask mandate in place.
After the public comment portion of the meeting, Supt. Jeremy Secrist reported the numbers of COVID cases had declined among students and staff, but didn't recommend dropping the mask mandate.
Schuster cited the "downward trend" in making his motion.
Statewide, COVID-19 numbers have fluctuated in recent weeks, though the number of hospitalizations due to the illness have declined 10 percent in the last three weeks as of Wednesday afternoon.
Gottschling, echoing some of the public comment, asked Secrist what he believed the "threshold" should be in ending the mask requirement.
The superintendent didn't offer a specific number, but said the district was working to keep students in classrooms.
Secrist said COVID-19 is far different from cold and flu seasons in the amount of time a staff member or student is out due to the illness.
"We are looking for the best way to get through this school year with most amount of time in the classroom," Secrist said.
Stoner complimented the superintendent for the efforts of he and his administrators to keep in-class learning in place.
"I am very grateful to Mr. Secrist for his professionalism during these unprecedented times," Stoner said, labeling criticism of the superintendent as "patently unfair and unfounded."
"The best thing we can do as a district is to be here for our students and staff," Stoner said.