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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Northeast Ohio School Districts Vary on Mask Requirements As School Begins

a photo of students wearing masks standing by a school bus
David Carpio
Whether masks are required in school depends on the district a student attends. Under a federal requirement, all students must be masked on school buses.

Northeast Ohio students are returning to school just as the delta variant has turned the state into a COVID-19 hotspot. Whether students will be required to wear masks in the classroom depends on which district they attend.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is urging parents toget vaccinations for children 12 and older or have them wear a mask. He has urged all students to wear masks in the classroom, though he said there would be no state mandate for masks. 

Several local school districts announced plans for returning to school safely before the governor spoke out on the issue. The officials said they listened to their constituents when making their decisions.  

Shaker City Schools implemented a universal policy on masks when school starts on Aug 25. Masks will be required inside buildings, except when eating, regardless of vaccination status. Students covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act are exempt. District Superintendent David Glasner said there was strong support for the requirement from parents.

“Just as an example, prior to announcing our mask mandate, the feedback that I received from our community was really exclusively about having a mask mandate,” he said.

Parents in Shaker Heights reflect the national sentiment, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It found that more than 6 in 10 parents favor mask mandates. However, they aren't in favor of vaccination mandates.

The goal of the mask policy, Glasner said, is to keep children safe and in school, using U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He said he wants to avoid having to resort to remote learning.

“I think one of the things that we learned last year is how important it is for students to be in person. And that we have to do everything possible to keep students in person where we know we can serve them best,” he said

Cleveland Heights and Lakewood schools also have mask mandates. So does Mentor, which recently changed its policy. Mentor Schools Superintendent Bill Porter explained why the district suddenly shifted.

“With the new information we have, it’s become abundantly clear that for Mentor schools to stay open for in-person learning, we need to require face coverings… at least to start the year,” he said on the district’s YouTube channel.

Garfield Heights and Cleveland schools are requiring masks for at least the first five weeks of the year.  Akron also will require students to be masked to begin the fall semester. Bay Village is only requiring masks for the first two weeks and will review the policy every two weeks.

In Rocky River, where parents’ opinions about masking are split, the school board voted to require masks only for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. They’re recommended for older students.

In some districts, parents have been adamant at board meetings that masks not be required for their students. Euclid, Parma, Strongsville, Independence and Avon Lake will all let parents and families decide whether students wear masks in school. The same is true in the Brecksville/Broadview Heights School district.

Brecksville/Broadview Heights Board of Education President Fred Pedersen said the district received passionate emails about masks for three weeks. Opinions, he said, seemed to be split.

“Our parents, like parents everywhere, want the best for their children.  There are many that really believe the science shows masks are dangerous and there are many who believe the science shows that masks protect everyone from the virus,” he wrote in an email. 

With COVID cases continuing to rise in Ohio, more districts have mandated mask-wearing, including Hudson, Twinsburg and Willoughby-Eastlake.

Regardless of district policies, there are places where students are required to wear masks. School buses are considered public transportation and must adhere to CDC guidelines that mandate universal masking on buses.

The agency is also promoting a layered prevention strategy. That includes vaccines for eligible students, maintaining at least three feet of social distancing indoors and frequently cleaning surfaces like desks and chairs. If people feel sick, the CDC says they should stay home.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

Corrected: August 25, 2021 at 2:12 PM EDT
This story has been corrected to reflect that Stow-Munroe Falls Schools are not requiring masks at this time, just strongly recommending their use.
Afi Scruggs is an award-winning writer/journalist and author who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her career started in 1983 as a freelancer in Richmond, Virginia. After that, she worked at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Jackson, Mississippi, and Dayton, Ohio, before settling in Cleveland.