The Buckeye Valley Board of Education voted Wednesday to implement a mask requirement for students kindergarten through eighth grade in hopes of preventing COVID-19 cases from spreading through the district.
The decision was made after lengthy discussion among the board members during a regular meeting held at Buckeye Valley High School. The mandate applies to students at the elementary schools and Buckeye Valley Middle School. The requirement goes into effect Monday.
High school students are still required to wear masks on school buses for the time being, per federal orders.
Superintendent Andy Miller gave the board estimates of how many students wore masks during the first three days of school in compliance with the Delaware Public Health District’s recommendation. Miller said 15% of students at the elementary schools wore masks, 15% of students at the middle school wore masks, and between 5-10% of high school students wore masks.
After hearing the data, board member Randy Turner said he would be in favor of a mask mandate because it would decrease the amount of students who need to quarantine if a classmate tests positive.
“I want to do the best we can to stay in school and keep our schools open, and I want to see kids wearing masks like they did last year,” Turner said. “We at least need to give ourselves a chance to stay (in school). … If we allow people to go without masks and we have an outbreak, we’re out.”
Turner added the board can meet again in two weeks to evaluate the mandate and see the impact on the first week of school with no mask requirement.
“I’m not thinking we put masks on and keep them there forever,” he said. “I’m thinking that right now we have a variant we know is increasing, and we have one of the largest unvaccinated populations in the county … and that if it spreads, we’re going to lose our ability to have in-person education.”
Board member Jamie Ottery agreed, adding the mask mandate would keep quarantines to a minimum.
“If our goal is to keep kids in school, which is where we know they learn the best, I think they have to be wearing masks,” Ottery said. “If they’re not, we’re just opening up opportunities for a lot of quarantining.”
Board Vice President Amy Dutt said she was in favor of the mandate for similar reasons because it keeps students in class.
“I just want to see kids in school,” Dutt said.
Board President Justin Osborn said he’d rather leave the choice up the parents. Board member Jeff White agreed with Osborn. He said it should be “like any other medical decision” and left up to the parents.
Dutt said that leaving it to parents will result in students who were wearing masks still having to quarantine if an unmasked student in their class tests positive.
“It’s not okay that another parent decides for my kid that they have to go home and quarantine,” Dutt said.
Ultimately, the board decided to apply the mandate to kindergarten through eighth grade because a majority of those students are unable to be vaccinated, whereas high school students are old enough to be vaccinated.
Dutt, Ottery and Turner voted in favor of the mandate, while Osborn and White voted no.
The board also set a special meeting for Sept. 1 to revisit the discussion. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the library at Buckeye Valley High School.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.