SUNBURY — All students from kindergarten through sixth grade in the Big Walnut Local School District are required to wear a mask inside due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, following a recent resolution approved by the Big Walnut Board of Education.
The implementation began on Sept. 27. It does not apply to preschoolers or those in seventh grade or above.
“We have received many emails and calls by people saying our Board cannot make a mask requirement,” Superintendent Angie Hamberg said on the district website. However, it can, she said.
Ohio’s state laws allows for boards of education to make rules to govern its employees, pupils, and those entering school grounds or buildings. Also, districts are allowed to make and enforce rules to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
“As you know, face coverings are required on all school buses due to a Federal order,” Hamberg wrote. That and the “continued impact on attendance from COVID-19” prompted the board to take action at a meeting that lasted more than four hours on Sept. 16.
Hamberg said the mask mandate will be in effect until any one of the three criteria are met:
“1. Vaccinations are available for all children served in the BW schools (ages 5-11, once enough time has elapsed for kids to receive both doses and be considered fully vaccinated); 2. A change in quarantine requirements is made; 3. The Pandemic Response Team makes a different recommendation.”
A form is available on the district’s website to exempt students from wearing a mask. The form provides four exemptions that prevents them from wearing a face covering: a physical impairment; a disability; a mental health condition; or a medical condition. There is also an exemption for religious requirements that prohibit the wearing of a facial covering. Parents must provide documentation from their health care provider or clergy regarding the impairment or prohibition.
“Please understand that absent an approved waiver, your child will be expected to wear a mask,” Hamberg said. “If your child does not have an approved waiver and will not wear a mask, you will be contacted to pick your child up from school. The last thing we want is for our staff members to take their focus off of educating our children to be “mask police,” but we are required to implement the resolution that was passed by our Board of Education … Please do not direct any anger over this issue at our staff members.”
Even if a student does have a mask waiver, they are still subject to quarantine by the Delaware Public Health District. By state law, “Boards of education shall co-operate with boards of health in the prevention and control of epidemics,” said Health Commissioner Shelia Hiddleson in a letter. She said that despite the recently-approved Senate Bill 22, “DPHD has the duty and authority to isolate students and staff who are medically diagnosed with COVID-19, and to quarantine students and staff who are close contacts to an individual medically diagnosed with COVID-19.”
If isolated or quarantined, that person cannot attend school or school events until they have permission from a board of health, the letter went on to say. Schools can’t isolate or quarantine, only the board of health. If necessary, the board of health also has the authority to close school buildings and disinfect them.
For more information, visit bwls.net.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.