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MANSFIELD -- Richland County schools are split over the issue of mask requirements.
Four of the county's nine public school districts have implemented mask requirements this school year in an effort to stem illness and quarantine-related absences.
That means about 51 percent of Richland County's public school students are under school mask requirements, based on enrollment data from the Ohio Department of Education.
One of our readers recently asked if Richland County’s school districts have considered developing uniform, evidence-based masking and quarantine protocols.
The simple answer is no. Policies and protocols vary by school district, as determined by school boards and administrators.
“We’re not going to be consistent throughout the county because each district is led by an elected board of education," explained Supt. Kevin Kimmel of the Mid Ohio Educational Service Center (MOESC).
Creating a uniform set of protocols can also be difficult because public health conditions vary across the county at any given time. Politics and public opinion also factor into school policies.
“Each district had their unique twist to this because of local pressures and local data,” Kimmel said. “Not all people are in agreement that mask mandates are the appropriate approach. That varies by school district.”
During the 2020-2021 school year, there was less variation between school districts. This was largely due to statewide public health mandates.
School administrators and health department officials did come together to release COVID-19 guidance at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. The best practice manual was developed in collaboration with Richland Public Health and MOESC.
The state lifted all health orders on June 2, so schools had to come up with their own mitigation policies for the 2021-2022 school year.
“Each superintendent is focusing on their own communities when it comes to (COVID-19 protocols),” said Supt. Rob Peterson of the Madison Local School District. “We each have our challenges and they’re different in all of our communities.”
“It really is more challenging this school year, I believe, because we’re forced into making our own decisions and hoping we’re doing what’s best for our district," said Supt. Lisa Carmichael of Ontario Local Schools.
While school districts don’t operate with identical protocols, superintendents do meet regularly to discuss ideas.
The county’s superintendents meet monthly at the Mid Ohio Educational Service Center. MOESC member superintendents have another monthly meeting, as do all the schools that work with Pioneer Career and Technology Center.
There are also open discussion meetings that any superintendent is welcome to attend.
“(COVID-19) is on the top of every superintendent’s mind every day -- 24 hours," Kimmel said. "All of our district superintendents, their goal is to do everything they can to keep their kids in school, face-to-face, five days a week because we recognize that’s the best place for our students to learn.”
Carmichael said she is in weekly communication with administrators from neighboring districts.
“We try to somewhat be consistent, at least brainstorm and toss ideas around with each other,” she said.