Lexington board meeting

Dave Roberts discusses the new masking and quarantining policies during a Lexington Local Schools board meeting Thursday evening.

LEXINGTON -- Students and staff at Lexington Local Schools are no longer required to wear masks in the classroom.

The Lexington school board voted 4-0 to return to a mask optional policy at an emergency meeting Thursday night. The new policy, which encourages mask use, is effective immediately.

The board also voted 4-0 to adopt new quarantine guidelines based on new recommendations from the Ohio Department of Health.

Voting in favor of the changes were board members Robert Whitney, Keith Stoner, Dave Roberts and Rob Schuster. Board member Martin Gottschling did not attend the meeting.

The guidelines allow asymptomatic students who were exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting to continue attending classes and participating in extracurriculars, provided they wear a mask.

This policy was adopted by the Lexington school board on Nov. 4.

Supt. Jeremy Secrist recommended both changes to the board. He said the school’s administrative team felt comfortable with the new policies after talking them over with Lexington’s school nurses and director of nursing.

“We're in agreement that now's the time to do this," he said. "We're certainly not here today to tell you that we've defeated COVID or say that the pandemic is over or that in-person learning is not still our priority. We just feel now more comfortable with where we're at."

Lexington implemented a mask requirement after high case numbers forced the district to go remote for the third and fourth week of the school year.

For the first two weeks of school, when masks were optional, rates of illness-related student absence averaged over 13 percent, according to Secrist.

An illness absence rate of between 4 to 5 percent is considered "normal" for the district, even prior to COVID-19. Illness absence rates have dropped into that range, hovering at around 4.5 percent, since the mask mandate was implemented.

Nevertheless, Secrist said he and fellow administrators feel comfortable dropping the mask requirement due to a drop in community COVID rates.

He cited data from Richland Public Health that showed a 39.4 percent decrease in COVID-19 cases in the area between Sept. 10 and Oct. 22.

“So while we're seeing reduction in school, we're also seeing reduction in the community,” he said. “We feel we're meeting our goals as far as the average amount of kids who are out sick.

“Our seven-week average since we've been in masks is seven (COVID) positives,” he added. “We’re only averaging one staff member testing positive (per week).”

Under the new guidelines, asymptomatic students and staff will be able to attend classes in a mask during their quarantine period. This only applies to those who were exposed in a school setting.

While the state recommends a 14-day masking period, Lexington will keep it at 10 to stay consistent with previous school policies.

Students who do not develop symptoms and test negative between five and seven days after exposure can discontinue mask-wearing after seven days. If a student develops symptoms at any point, they will be required to isolate and get a COVID-19 test.

The test can be either a PCR or antigen test, but the test must be proctored. Proctored tests are available through the district.

“We anticipated this coming because we've been watching it, so (director of nursing Paula Smith) and I have been getting a hold of more and more tests,” Secrist said. “We're at just under 1,000 right now. So we feel we have plenty of tests for individuals who want to utilize those to stay in school.”

To continue participating in extracurriculars, students must wear a mask when possible. This includes wearing a mask during transportation, in the locker room and while sitting on the sidelines. Students will also be required to take a COVID-19 test upon initial notification that they have been exposed to COVID-19. Students will have to take a second COVID-19 test between five and seven days after exposure. If the test is negative, they can discontinue mask-wearing after seven days.

Like before, vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine; however, they should be tested for COVID-19 if they develop symptoms after exposure.

Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 within three months prior to exposure may also be exempt from quarantine under the new guidelines. In order to be exempt from masking and testing requirements, the student must have a positive viral (PCR or antigen) test that was reported to Richland Public Health.

Also on Thursday, the board approved a resolution that will allow Lexington to hire substitute teachers with a minimum of a high school diploma. Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed into law a provision that waives the associates’ degree requirement for substitute teachers.

Prospective substitute teachers who did not complete post-secondary education will have to interview with district administrators before being added to the district substitute list.

“We do have sub shortages in healthy times and will certainly have them in unhealthy times,” Secrist said. “We need to bulk up our substitute pool and we're hoping that this goes along with what we're trying to do to keep kids in school.”

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Staff reporter focused on education and features. Clear Fork alumna. Always looking for a chance to practice my Spanish. You can reach me at katie@richlandsource.com