ORRVILLE, Ohio — As the number of students contracting the coronavirus rises across Northeast Ohio, so do emotions over masks and quarantines. Just this week, the Wayne County Health Department took a drastic step to try and protect students and staff in Orrville.
We found out other school districts are also prepared to follow suit if they're put in a similar position.
In a letter parents in Orrville get when their child has come in contact with a classmate who tested positive for the coronavirus, they’re told their child is required to quarantine for 10 days.
"You have opposition from parents who don't want to follow those guidelines," said Peter Zawadski, an attorney with Walter Haverfield in Cleveland, which represents dozens of school districts across Northeast Ohio.
And earlier this week, that's exactly what happened. Wayne County Health Commissioner Nick Cascarelli told News 5 that a parent refused to quarantine their child despite them being identified as a close contact.
To make sure the quarantined student didn't step foot back inside the school, the Wayne County Health Department issued an order of quarantine, legally forcing the parent to follow the requirement.
Last year, News 5 spoke to Case Western Reserve University law professor Katharine Van Tassel, who said there are escalating repercussions for violating officially ordered quarantines in the state of Ohio.
The first time you’re caught violating the official order you could be facing a misdemeanor fine of up to $150. There will not be jail time. The second time you’re caught violating an order, the punishments are more severe.
“Then it would be a misdemeanor in the fourth degree and they would face a fine of up to $250 and jail time for over 30 days,” she said. “Importantly, once the public health officials understand that you can’t be trusted to stay home, it is also very possible for the police to take you into custody to force you to be isolated and quarantined in a completely separate place from your home, such as jail.”
While this may be one of the first recorded instances in our area of a parent refusing quarantine, Zawadski said it was likely not a surprise.
"I would be surprised if the administrators there did not anticipate something like that happening before the start of the school year," said Zawadski. "We're seeing frustrated school administrators and frustrated board members."
Zawadski said something like this was inevitable now that state lawmakers stripped Gov. Mike DeWine of his power to issue statewide COVID-19 health orders.
"Last school year, people were more or less compliant, albeit reluctantly at times, but there was certainly more authority coming from the state level," said Zawadski.
With that blanket of protection now gone, school districts, as well as the attorneys who represent them, are prepared to follow Wayne County Health Department's lead.
"We are going to be looking out for the interests of the large majority of the student population here, and we are going to step in and prevent the student from coming to school," said Zawadski.
In the meantime, Zawadski said the number of parents suing school districts over mask mandates and other protocols is on the rise.
And on the flip side, he said districts that don't follow orders from local health departments are at risk.
"You're being negligent or you're being reckless. I can see lawsuits coming from a sick family member or family member whose child is in ICU," said Zawadski.
News 5 tried multiple times to reach the Orrville parent in question.
We also asked the superintendent of Orrville City Schools for an on-camera interview and were told he was unavailable.
Click here to view a sample quarantine letter that would be sent by the Wayne County Health Department to the parent of a child required to quarantine.