The Delaware City Schools Board of Education voted Monday to require staff and students in the district to wear masks for the start of the school year.
The board approved a motion to require masks and face coverings as long as Delaware County is failing two or more of the parameters set on the Delaware Public Health District’s COVID-19 Critical Factor Report Card. The parameters include new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days being less than 50; a less than 8% positivity rate; less than 20% of COVID-19 ICU beds in use; COVID-19 vaccine coverage; and fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 Delaware County public school staff and students in the past seven days.
As of Aug. 11, the county is failing two parameters: new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days is greater than 50 at 108.52; and the percentage of COVID-19 ICU beds in use is greater than 20% at 29.27%.
The health district updates the report card every Wednesday, and the board said tying the mask requirement to the report card not only gives parents concrete parameters to look at, but it also keeps the information available to the public.
Board Vice President Michael Wiener began the discussion about a mask mandate by saying that he had visited Schultz Elementary School on a back to school night and found a large number of people at the event not wearing masks, despite guidelines indicating they should.
Board Member Matt Weller said he knows masks are a “polarizing issue” and said masks reduce the chance that a student will have to quarantine if they are in a class that has an exposure.
“(Masks) are the best way to keep kids in school five days a week,” Weller said. “I’m not thrilled about it, but it keeps teachers in buildings as well.”
Board Member Ted Backus agreed, adding unmasked students may have to quarantine for up to 14 days if they are exposed to a student that tests positive.
Board Member Jayna McDaniel-Browning said the district has the choice between being proactive or reactive, and she believes requiring masks is the proactive decision.
“We all have the same goal, to have kids back in school full time and learning,” McDaniel-Browning said. “We all know that (students back in school) is best for their mental health and their social emotional well-being and for their education.”
Board President Frances O’Flaherty said it is the district’s responsibility to “protect those who can’t protect themselves,” and there are three layers of protection again COVID-19: masks, social distancing and vaccinations. O’Flaherty said that students 12 and under can’t get vaccinated, and said the district will not be able to distance students in every classroom, leaving masks as the only layer of protection for them.
“We’re going to do the very most that we can to protect the public and our students and our staff,” O’Flaherty said.
Student board member Katie Hejmanowski said there’s likely to be “some grumbling” from students about the mask mandate, but students want to be back in school five days a week. Hejmanowski said students don’t always make the safe decision, and she’s already seen students not follow procedures before the start of the school year.
“The honor system is a flawed system,” Hejmanowski said, adding that “when it comes down to it” the barrier between students can either be right in front of their face or miles apart as they learn remotely.
The board voted unanimously to approve the mask requirement, adding the district will continue to encourage masks even if the county’s status improves and the mandate is lifted.
Additionally, the board approved the resignation of several staff members, including Joan Umland, an educational assistant at Conger Elementary, and Ann Kanode, an administrative assistant at Smith, who is retiring.
The board then approved the employment of Henry Cook, an Ohio School for the Deaf educational assistant; Maxwell Drerup, an educational assistant at Schultz Elementary School; Alexis Gilliland, an education assistant at Dempsey Middle School; Columbus Millet IV, an educational assistant at Schultz; Paula Slaughter, an educational assistant at Schultz; Lisa Thomas, an educational assistant at Dempsey; Mary Wilford, an educational assistant at Woodward Elementary School; and Christina Wolbert, an administrative assistant at Carlisle Elementary.
The board also approved a $3,000 reduction to a contract for gutter work at Willis Education Center and a $46,938.45 increase to a contract for temporary roofing supplies and installation at Woodward Elementary.
The board will meet next on Sept. 13.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.