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Masks stay on at Union Local

BELMONT — The Union Local School District again decided to require masks while officials wait and see how things play out with COVID-19 in the district, but at the public’s urging the board may devise a numerical target for lessening mandates.

The board and a handful of members of the audience discussed the matter for nearly two hours Thursday evening, with tensions rising and cooling at various points between passionate parents and board members, all of whom said they were doing what was in the children’s best interest.

Ultimately, the board agreed unanimously to continue requiring masks for all students, faculty and visitors — a policy initially enacted earlier this month.

One sentiment among the public was a concern that the board would continue to re-evaluate the situation for an indeterminate amount of time.

They said that ultimately offers no closure to parents who do not want to keep their kids masked for their entire schooling careers.

One man, Kenny Webb, suggested a system in which a certain percentage of sick students would be the trigger to require masks, while otherwise allowing students to choose whether to be masked or not.

“You guys are tracking the numbers daily, correct? You would be able to make this change, at least, on every Monday morning,” Webb said.

Webb’s suggestion was met with a positive response from much of the board, who said they would look into figuring out if such a system would be feasible and what percentage would be used as a baseline if so.

The pursuit of an “exit strategy” from masks was the central topic of debate between the board members, the administration and the public.

Superintendent Ben Porter recounted a recent phone conference he’d participated in with the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, who said that a four-week review period was encouraged for determining the effects of mask use on students at local districts, while school officials sought guidance on how to move away from masks when it was safe to do so.

“A lot of the questions that the superintendents across the state raised during that time was, what could we be doing in place?” Porter told those present. “This isn’t just here. There’s disagreement across the state for many districts trying to implement masking requirements. It’s a common theme to establish these guidelines.

“I don’t have those yet, but the hospitals did say they would help schools to develop those,” he added. “… That’s really the guidance that we need from them, up there.”

Board member Ed Stenger voiced his opposition to masks in concept, while arguing that they are a necessary evil for the protection of students in school.

In response to a comment from Devin Roberson saying that the board had been “living in fiction,” Stenger shot back, saying that it was reality that several children in the district had been afflicted with COVID-19, and that he would happily vote to keep children masked but in school, rather than return to virtual learning.

“It’s not fiction where you have eight, 10 or 12 elementary kids who have COVID, and you have 112 of them that have to be quarantined, … and if I have to be in a position where I have to vote for either masks or virtual learning, I’ll never vote for virtual learning. I’ve seen it, I’ve had grandchildren go through it, …. and between masks and virtual learning, I’ll take masks any day of the week.

“There were some kids, my granddaughter among them, that didn’t learn nothing,” he added.

The matter will be revisited at the next board meeting.

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