MADISON TOWNSHIP — Madison superintendent Rob Peterson will study the district's absentees and COVID cases while weighing a potential decision on masking.
Over the next two weeks, Peterson will monitor the number of positive cases for the COVID-19 virus in students and staff within the Madison Local School District. He will also keep track of the absenteeism rate for the district.
If at any time in the next two weeks, positive cases show a "significant" increase and the absenteeism rates climb into the 25% range or higher, Peterson will institute a temporary mask requirement in the Madison district. Peterson will be able to implement this mask requirement without board approval.
Then, if a temporary mask requirement is deemed necessary, the requirement would be reviewed at the next regular Board of Education meeting on Oct. 27. Cases and absentee rates will be reviewed again, and it will be decided if a mask requirement needs to be continued.
This recommendation from Peterson was approved by the Madison Board of Education at Wednesday night's meeting. Only board member Melissa Walker voted against.
"The recommendation of the mask requirement is about one thing, and one thing only: keeping our students — keeping our children — in an optimal learning environment, and keeping our teachers in an optimal teaching environment, which is in the classroom and face-to-face learning," Peterson said.
"I am asking everybody involved to lay personal beliefs aside and focus on our children and how to best provide them with an education."
As of Sept. 21, there are five positive COVID cases at the high school, and one at the middle school.
Due to COVID-related illness and staffing issues, Madison South Elementary moved to remote learning from Sept. 15 to 21, while Madison Comprehensive High School and Middle School went remote from Sept. 9 through 17.
"It is certainly not my intent to require masks for the rest of the school year," Peterson said. "Just for a period of time as necessary, until it is either determined that masks are not positively affecting our ability to keep students in the classroom, or determined that student and staff positive cases and absenteeism have stabilized at a reasonable rate."
Statewide, the spread of COVID-19 in school-aged children and whether to require masking in schools has been hotly contested. From Aug. 15 to Sept. 14, Ohio reported 29,823 school-aged kids ages 5 to 17 tested positive for COVID-19.
According to Gov. Mike DeWine, as of Sept. 17 nearly 58% of public K-12 students are required to wear masks in schools.
Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, medical director of infectious diseases at OhioHealth, said keeping kids in school should remain a public health priority. However, to do that, schools must use every mitigation strategy available, including masking.
“Masks do have a role. None of the mitigation measures are perfect, but additively they work together,” Gastaldo said. “Wearing a mask does no physiological harm to a child; in fact, somebody's life may be saved by wearing a mask."
A rough count estimated more than 60 people were in attendance at Wednesday's meeting. The majority of the crowd was unmasked, and only two of the five board members wore masks, in addition to Peterson.
The board heard from 10 Madison residents during public comment, after emphasizing these meetings are in public for the purpose of conducting school district business, and not to be considered a public meeting.
The next regular meeting of the Madison Board of Education is Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 4:30 p.m. in the Madison Middle School Auditoria.