BLANCHESTER — School officials voted to loosen mask mandates for the district.
At a special meeting on Monday, the Blanchester School Board voted 4-1 in favor of an immediate policy change which states, “At no time may the superintendent, administrators, staff, volunteers or parents enforce or prohibit the use of a face covering for any student and/or employee in the district, at outdoor activities under the control of the district and/or while using district transportation in which window(s) are open.”
The policy change also states that effective June 1, “at no time may the superintendent, administrators, staff, volunteers or parents enforce or prohibit the use of a face covering for any student and/or employee in the district, at activities under the control of the district and on district-provided transportation.”
Boardmember Jeremy Kaehler advised they had been listening to concerns from parents in the district about forcing their children to wear masks. Kaehler also said he “gathered a consensus” from staff members who believe the mask-wearing is “not effective.”
He and other board members also believe continuing mask mandates could affect enrollments since parents may not want their kids to continue either wearing a mask or taking part in online classes.
Boardmember Kathy Gephart was the only one to vote “no.” Gephart along with teachers from the middle and high school expressed concerns over the change.
Kurt Ballinger, a teacher at Blanchester Middle School, expressed concerns about changing the policy while there’s still a statewide mask mandate.
“It may not be worth it,” said Ballinger.
He believes this could result in them losing funding or facing litigation. He referenced it as a parallel with mandated state testing.
“Teachers, administrators, and parents alike often agree that it doesn’t really tell you what happens in the classroom. But we still do it,” he said. “The reason we do it, and the reason every school does it, is if you don’t, the state takes your funding.”
He added he is fearful about it due to the school board having to make budget cuts in the past few years.
“We’re not in the position to do that. Some other schools might be, but I just don’t think financially we’re in a position to do that,” he said, adding that he hoped the board had done their due diligence with their legal counsel.
The board assured him they had, although the information wasn’t shared due to it being confidential, they said.
Ballinger also is concerned that implementing these changes could result in litigation if a faculty member got sick.
Michelle Elston, also a Blanchester Middle School teacher, said she is also concerned because she’s not sure how to tell her children, who are also Blanchester students.
“I’m a strict parent in my house. You follow the rules and you follow the guidelines,” said Elston. “I hate masks. I wish they were gone … I wear them because people who are way smarter than me have statistically proven that the mask protects others. I just don’t understand why we’re doing this.”
Some of the faculty members felt things could change over the summer and that the board was acting too quickly to remove the mandates. One teacher, John Lovin, felt this would shed a bad light on the district.
Board President Kyle Wilson told attendees while the new policies were going to be put in place, they may be subject to review again as the 2021-2022 school year draws closer.