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MANSFIELD -- Masks aren’t going away completely for Ohio’s K-12 students.

While there is no longer a mask mandate in the classroom, students will still be required to wear masks on school buses this fall.

The requirement is not a local one -- school bus passengers nationwide are required to mask up under a mandate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is not an exception for those vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a federal mask requirement for transit systems that took effect Feb. 1. It remains in effect. School buses are included in the order because they are considered a form of public transit.

Lexington superintendent Jeremy Secrist questioned the logic behind the mandate at a school board meeting last week.

“I’m not sure common sense plays into it at all,” he told the board.

The bussing mandate isn’t the only COVID prevention rule schools will be required to follow in the fall.

Multiple representatives from Richland Public Health (RPH) confirmed that any student not vaccinated against COVID-19 will be required to quarantine after a confirmed positive exposure. 

This is a state mandate -- isolation and quarantine fall under the public health authority granted by the Ohio Revised Code.

"According to ORC 3709.21(2) and following the Ohio Department of Health public health management of direct contacts of COVID-19 cases as outlined in the Infectious Disease Control Manual, it is a public health mandate that direct contacts that are unvaccinated must quarantine," explained Sherry Smith, RPH's Public Health Nursing Supervisor. "This includes direct contacts in the K-12 school setting where certain prevention measures are not in place."

Thus, if the health department becomes aware of a positive case within a school district, a representative will reach out to the district and ask for a list of that person’s close contacts.

Likewise, school districts will be required to notify the health department if they are made aware of any positive cases among students or staff.

There are two groups of people who may be exempt from quarantine after exposure -- those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 and those who are fully vaccinated against it.

Both RPH and ODH state that person who has recovered from a confirmed case of COVID-19 within three months does not need to quarantine or be retested as long as they remain asymptomatic.

People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be required to isolate or quarantine after a positive exposure as long as they remain asymptomatic.

Both state and local health authorities are continuing to follow CDC guidance, which recommends a full 14 day quarantine but states that there are two options for ending quarantine early. 

Quarantining can end ten days after exposure if the person exposed has no symptoms. With this strategy, residual post-quarantine transmission risk is estimated to be about one percent with an upper limit of about ten percent, according to the CDC.

Quarantine can end seven days after exposure if the person exposed has no symptoms and tests negative five days or later. With this strategy, the residual post-quarantine transmission risk is estimated to be about five percent with an upper limit of about twelve percent.

This 15-page document outlines Richland Public Health's recommendations and guidance for local school districts going into the 2021-2022 school year. With the exception of mask-wearing on buses and quarantine for unvaccinated students, these are recommendations -- not mandates. Mandates are made at the state and federal level.

No mask mandate likely 

Although both the CDC and American Association of Pediatrics now recommend mask-wearing in schools, it's unlikely that schools or the state will require them.

Governor Mike DeWine recently stated that he does not have the ability to mandate masks -- hinting that public resistance may be a factor.

“As Governor DeWine mentioned Monday, he doesn’t feel the state has an appetite for a mask mandate at this time and the best defense against the virus continues to be the vaccine,” said Michelle Fong, a public information officer with the Ohio Department of Health.

Fong also stated that ODH is currently reviewing new guidance from the CDC, which recommends that everyone mask up indoors in areas of high COVID-19 transmission. The CDC and ODH both recommend masking for unvaccinated students, teachers, and staff.

The American Academy of Pediatrics takes it even further. It recommends universal masking in schools regardless of vaccination status.

Nevertheless, most area superintendents have reaffirmed their intentions not to implement a mask requirement.

Madison Supt. Rob Peterson said it "continues to be our intent to make masks optional for students."

Superintendent Lisa Carmichael of Ontario said that masks will be optional, not required, once staff and students are in school.

The topic of masks continues to be a point of discussion for Mansfield City Schools administrators.

“Our safety team will continue to monitor and discuss the recommendations from the local and state agencies,” Supt. Stan Jefferson said. “We’ll continue to work through this process and announce any changes as we get closer to the start of the school year. We don't know what can change in the next three weeks."

Secrist confirmed at the July school board meeting that district will not be mandating that staff or students wear masks.

“We continue to move forward with the idea of coming back to school like it’s 2019, giving our students the opportunity to have as normal a school year as possible,” he said.

“The big thing we’re going to push to our families is ‘Please assist us in keeping this place healthy —whether it’s cold, flu or COVID,” he added. “If your kid shows symptoms, leave them at home. We’re going to make it very clear to parents. We’re going to work with the absences.”

“If your students doesn’t feel well, please don’t fill them up with Tylenol and send them to school.”

Could schools mandate eligible students receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

The short answer is no -- as long as COVID-19 vaccines are under Emergency Use Authorization only, schools cannot require staff or students to receive it.

The Ohio legislature recently passed House Bill 244, which prohibits public schools and colleges from requiring vaccines that do not have full FDA approval. The bill also prohibits schools from “discriminating” against students without fully-approved FDA vaccines or having different activities and precautions for vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

Nevertheless, RPH has stated that HB 244 “does not apply to the Public Health mandate for Reporting, nor Isolation and Quarantine measures” outlined in the Ohio Department of Health Infectious Disease Control Manual.

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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.ellington@richlandsource.com