STORY MIA HILKOWITZ | ADDITIONAL INTERVIEWS WUDIE AMASLU | PHOTOGRAPHY FAIR USE
Friday Oct. 29, Superintendent Matt Miller announced to Lakota community members that masks will no longer be required for in-person learners. The decision follows a recent change in Ohio Department of Health (ODH) quarantine guidance for close contacts in school settings.
“As we have done since the start of the pandemic, in addition to reviewing the guidance from ODH, we consulted with local medical experts before making this decision,” Miller said via email to community members. “We have not received any feedback from the Butler County General Health District that opposes these new protocols.”
The new ODH guidance states that direct contacts to positive cases, regardless of vaccination or masking status, may remain in the classroom. However, close contacts must wear a mask for 14 days after their last date of exposure and self-monitor or parent monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Contacts must isolate and get tested if they begin to experience COVID-19 symptoms. While parents and students are responsible for symptom monitoring, nurses and school staff with a close contact student in their class are expected to pay attention to symptoms.
“[Lakota] has been talking about [removing the mandate] since Monday since ODH announced their new quarantine guidance,” Lakota Spokeswomen Betsy Fuller told Spark. “Every single week, we are looking at our numbers and talking about what we think about masks and if we should stick with the requirements. When ODH came through with their announcement on Monday, the conversation started again.”
In his email, Miller stated that the district has consulted local medical experts before making the decision and that the district has not received any feedback from the Butler County General Health District that opposes the protocol. According to Fuller, teachers and students were not consulted between Monday and Friday when the decision was announced, but the district has been working closely with local health experts and organizations to make their protocols.
“As with every decision that we’ve made regarding COVID, Mr. Miller consults the guidance from ODH,” Fuller said. “He looked at the medical experts, he reached out to local hospitals and looked at the numbers. It’s all about the safety of our students.”
For close contact students that refuse to wear a mask, the district has developed a protocol to limit the spread of the virus.
“At the building level, they will know who should be wearing a mask,” Fuller said. “If a [close contact] student or staff member does not wear a mask but they are quarantined and will not be allowed to stay [in person]. They need to stay home for 10 days and follow the guidelines.”
According to ODH protocol, close contact students that participate in extracurricular activities must get tested within 24 hours of being notified as a close contact. That student must then wear a mask to participate. On the fifth, sixth, or seventh day of being notified, students should be tested again.
Following the announcement Friday afternoon, students at East were quick to react.
“Kids don’t even follow the rules as it is. Most of these kids aren’t vaccinated,” East senior Olivia Lockett told Spark. “I think [the decision is] just causing more danger, especially for the people that have autoimmune diseases but still have to come to school.”
East senior Jenny Mateo said that she will feel pressure from peers about whether or not to wear a mask at school.
“There [is pressure] either way,” Mateo told Spark. “Because if you don’t wear [a mask], it’s bad. But if you do wear one, it’s bad. It depends on who you are around.”
East junior Veronica Geiger believes that the decision to wear a mask should be up to the discretion of the students.
“I feel as if it should be up to the student to decide if they want to wear masks,” Geiger told Spark. “Personally, I’m still going to wear mine just because I want to protect myself and others.”
East senior Daniel Mulumba says that the new policy is more complicated for students.
“I understand that people don’t really like the masks or wearing masks during school, but I feel like the policy is just a little too complicated,” East senior Daniel Mulumba told Spark. “Especially the part about if you’re near someone that tests positive, then don’t show symptoms. You have to come back and wear a mask for two weeks. But then if you go get tested and you’re negative, then it’s only one week; just a ton of different twists and turns.”
With this decision, Lakota joins other local school districts including Edgewood, Fairfield, Madison, Monroe, New Miami, and Ross to recommend masks or go mask optional for in-person learners and staff. According to the Lakota COVID-19 dashboard, 18 students and 6 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 this previous week of Oct. 25-29. This school year, a total of 536 students and 83 staff members have tested positive. The New York Times COVID-19 Case and Risk Tracker reports that Butler County has experienced an average of 88 new positive COVID-19 cases a day.
While this change is being implemented starting Monday Nov. 1, Fuller believes that it is important to emphasize that the decision will continue to be evaluated throughout the remainder of the school year.
“It’s really important to stress that we will continue to watch our numbers,” Fuller said. “Our numbers have been declining. If you look at our COVID dashboard, we will continue to watch the numbers and if we start to see a spike, we may choose to go back and make masks required again.”
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