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No Masks For Parma Students This Fall, Vaccinated Or Not

Parma sports teams at the secondary level will "proceed as business as usual," according to Superintendent Charles Smialek. [Parma City School District]
Parma Soccer Team

When students with the Parma City School district head to their classrooms for the first day of school on Aug. 23, they will not be required to wear masks, whether they are vaccinated or not.

That’s the plan, according to Superintendent Charles Smialek.

“Where it stands right now, we are not going to require masks,” Smialek told Ideastream Public Media. “And quite frankly, if parents aren't comfortable with that, we have a different option for them. They can keep their children learning from home at our virtual learning academy.”

Smialek acknowledges that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advises differently, saying unvaccinated students should wear masks in the classroom, but he points to Ohio House Bill 244, which was just signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine. 

The legislation prohibits COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ohio’s K-12 schools and colleges.

It also bars “discrimination” against unvaccinated students by schools and colleges, and defines discrimination as “requiring the individual to engage in or refrain from engaging in activities or precautions that differ from the activities or precautions of an individual who has received such a vaccine.”

Smialek said the conflict between state law and CDC recommendations is difficult, but the law is the law.

“That bill clearly states that you cannot treat vaccinated children and unvaccinated children any differently. So that's a clear conflict with what the CDC said. So the frustrating point is, we want clarity for our families,” he said. “Our families want to know what exactly is happening. They have decisions to make, themselves.”

Parma schools will try to enforce some social distancing in the elementary and middle schools, when possible, since children under 12 so far don’t the option to get vaccinated. But at the high school, where students can get vaccinated, Smialek said “we’ll really be back to business as usual.”

All the schools will continue to undergo an aggressive cleaning regimen, he said, to safeguard against the virus, as they did last year.

That means using the 360 electrostatic disinfectant cleaners that became a favorite in schools across the country at the peak of the pandemic. Smialek said the schools also will continue to employ extra cleaning staff to keep up.

“We had what we’ve called ‘COVID cleaners’ to clean during the day so that we had a really constant process going on,” he said. “So we’ll continue to have those that are secondary schools and our elementary schools.”

The district “feels safe going forward” with extracurricular activities and sports at the high school level particularly, with teens having the option to get vaccinated, Smialek said.

The Parma City School District is offering an all-virtual option for all students for the fall. The Virtual Learning Academy already has 200 students enrolled, though Smialek expects the numbers to change over the next six weeks, particularly if the “delta variant really picks up, and we start to see more illnesses, especially among children.”

Dedicated distance-learning teachers for elementary and middle classes will instruct students virtually, but secondary school teachers will potentially teach in both modes – offering some sections in person and others over the computer.