Education

COLUMBUS -- Facemasks will be required for Ohio teachers and staff and are "strongly recommended" for students in grades 3-12 when school begins for the 2020-2021 school year, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday.

The governor, who said it's important for in-classroom education to return this fall, also said each school district must develop and implement its own facial covering policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Schools can adjust their rules to what works best for them for a safe environment and that protects students and staff," the governor said during his daily press conference, stressing the importance of local control for each district.

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DeWine also announced districts must develop social distancing policies that may affect school schedules when the new academic year begins, which would likely mean a mix of in-class and online education.

The governor is largely leaving it up to individual districts and school boards to determine their own plans, other than requring teachers and staff wear masks.

"Just as we have done in the business sectors with employees, we are requiring school staff to wear face coverings to reduce the spread of the virus, unless it is unsafe or when doing so could significantly interfere with the learning process," DeWine said.

DeWine, who ordered the state's K-12 schools closed in March when the coronavirus pandemic began, said teachers and students did "outstanding with distance learning" for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

"(But) the American Academy of Pediatricts strongly recommends students be physically present in school as much as possible," the governor said.

Under state guidelines, students are not required to wear masks, but DeWine said they are strongly recommended for grades 3-12, unless there are medical or developmental reasons not to do so.

"We just use common sense," he said. "We follow the science and we use common sense with regard to how (face covering) policy gets implemented. We wear face masks to protect each other."

DeWine said other state guidelines include daily monitoring for symptoms; testing strategy in conjuction with the local health department; frequent hand washing and thorough cleaning of all school environments.

Hand sanitizer will be required at all buildings entrances and classrooms and districts should require its usage.

DeWine said he is talking to leaders in the Ohio General Assembly about providing financial assistance to districts to meet expenses related to the guidelines, including potential use of federal CARES Act funds.

He said he hoped to have an announcement in the next week with specific funding assistance.

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"