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School mask disputes at forefront after DeWine expresses support for mandate

COVID-19 cases in Ohio continue to rise
Mask school
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 17, 2021

CLEVELAND — We are now several weeks into the school year and student masking continues to be a top issue of concern. In the weeks since kids went back to classrooms here in Northeast Ohio, the issue of masking has hit a fever pitch.

Earlier this week, Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) threw his support behind a mask mandate. At the press conference on Sept. 15 DeWine, surrounded by pediatric doctors, said the legislature is standing in the way for another mask mandate.

"What the legislature has made very clear is that if we put on a statewide mandate, they will take it off," he said. "They have the ability to do that. There is no 30-day waiting period. They can do it right away. And the legislature has made very clear that if we put on a mandate for kids in school to wear masks, that they will take it off."

In the 48 hours following the public announcement, there were several mask issues in local schools.

On Wednesday afternoon, leaders at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor made a post on the school's Facebook page addressing a social media firestorm surrounding a move made by one of their teachers.

The viral post has a photo of a detention card written for a senior at the school. On the card, it says the student walked across the cafeteria to get a tissue. At the time, the senior did not have a mask on. News 5 is not naming the student because they are under 18 years old.

A source close to the situation tells News 5 the student was recovering from a cold and wanted to clean up some nasal mucus before putting the mask back on. A teacher saw the student without a mask and wrote the detention slip. According to the source, the student's family thinks the issuance of detention was a step too far.

In the Facebook post from the school, administrators addressed the issue. "Our approach in any dispute/concern is to always direct the student(s) to speak with the adult first, and if there is no resolution to then discuss it with the administration."

The source told News 5 the student did not go to the detention, which was scheduled for Thursday. Students at Lake Catholic are supposed to get warnings before being issued detentions. Originally, the school did not require students to wear masks, but that policy changed about two weeks ago with the rise in community COVID-19 cases.

Disputes over masking are being seen outside classrooms too.

On Wednesday night, the regular meeting of the Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education was adjourned less than 30 minutes after it started after people arrived without masks on.

Dr. Todd Nichols, the Superintendent of Schools, tells News 5 the district instituted a mask mandate on Sept. 7.

He said approximately six people showed up at the meeting without masks. Those people made up more than half of the attendees. Nichols said there was one student and at least one set of district parents in the group. They refused to put masks on.

About five minutes into the meeting, a recess was taken. During that time, Nichols said he called the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department. He said five officers arrived. They spoke with the people attending the meeting and the board about what could happen next. Officers were also on the phone with the prosecutor to see if any charges were appropriate.

Instead of charges, Nichols and the board decided to adjourn the meeting.

There isn't video of the incident, but there is an audio recording on YouTube. The board left their microphones on. At one point, a board member said, "We have a mask mandate. We're going to enforce it."

At no point, Nichols said, was he worried about violence. But, he has hired officers to be at future board meetings.

The district reported 27 news COVID cases in students and three new cases in staff between Sept. 9 and Sept. 16.