ONTARIO -- Staff and students at Ontario Local Schools will no longer be required to wear masks inside school facilities starting Friday.
The board of education voted 4-1 at its Tuesday meeting to lift the mask requirement. Superintendent Lisa Carmichael recommended the change.
"Our cases have decreased significantly," Carmichael said. "Things are going really well."
The board chose to delay the start date for the new policy so that older community members would still feel comfortable attending the Veterans Day breakfast on Thursday.
The updated protocols also allow Carmichael to reinstate the mask requirement between board meetings if deemed "necessary and appropriate."
Carmichael said she wouldn't hesitate to reinstate a mask requirement temporarily for a grade level or building if there were a sudden, concentrated rise in cases.
Per federal mandate, masks will still be required on school buses.
Board member Amy Hiner voted against the lifting the mandate. During discussion, she suggested keeping the mask requirement in place at the Stingel Elementary so that parents concerned about COVID-19 could get their young children vaccinated before universal masking ends.
“I do think for peace of mind, for parents that do want their students to get vaccinated, we should extend it until Christmas," Hiner stated.
COVID incidence among Ontario students has been on a steady decline since a mask requirement was implemented on Sept. 1. Incidence rates have also dropped in Richland County and the state as a whole over the same time period.
Data from the Ohio Department of Education shows mask requirements are becoming less prevalent in school districts across the state. As of Nov. 4, masks are optional in 65 percent of Ohio's public school districts. Those districts include approximately 45.6 percent of Ohio's public-school students.
Ontario's decision comes just a week after the Lexington board of education chose to end its mask requirement for students and staff. The Lexington school board made the decision in part due to new, looser quarantine guidelines from the Ohio Department of Health.
Ontario will not be adopting those new guidelines, Carmichael said. Since the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the district has not conducted contact tracing nor required students to quarantine.