[Dylan Theisen | WOUB]

Mask Policy Stirs Animated Discussion At Alexander School Board Meeting

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ALBANY, Ohio (WOUB) — The Alexander Local Board of Education was forced to balance the interests of its constituency against federal health recommendations Monday night when a passionate dialogue on mask mandates emerged at a special meeting. 

The district is one of many across the nation seeking reasonable coronavirus prevention following widespread vaccination efforts.

When Alexander school board members first took their seats, there was little to anticipate. The board expected it would simply uphold current CDC recommendations for masks in schools.

Under those guidelines, all students and staff would wear facial coverings in a “classroom setting,” while those vaccinated could step outside the classroom mask-free. Athens County Health Commissioner Dr. James Gaskell voiced support for that motion. 

But what followed was an animated discussion among community members. Concerned parents and staff who petitioned for a less restrictive policy shared a common sentiment — vaccinated individuals, and students 10 and under, should not have to wear a mask. 

That standpoint aligned with the Ohio Department of Health’s order and the more general mask guidelines from the CDC.

Yet board President Blake Regan was hesitant.

“My PhD is in math education. But if you’re gonna ask me my recommendation on a health order, I’m gonna go to the health people and get their recommendation,” Regan said. 

Plus, Gaskell and the board held firm that it was not the duty of staff or students to ask others about their vaccination status out of concern for privacy. That meant any other protocol would have to work on the honor system. 

It wouldn’t be the first such system. Superintendent Lindy Douglas acknowledged that neighboring districts of Nelsonville-York, Trimble and Federal Hocking all adopted optional mask policies for the summer.

With that information on the table, the community doubled down and the board began to listen. 

“I have a first-grader. She loved kindergarten. She likes her teacher this year, but she hated school,” one concerned parent said during the meeting. “So any time we can get back to quote-unquote normal would be good.” 

Both sides addressed contradictions between state and federal guidelines. As in, students could continue sports, ride the bus, or gather in common areas all without masks. 

“One that always blew my mind was, after a wrestling match you can’t shake hands … I’m with you with the contradictions, left and right,” Regan said. 

The board had changed its tone; it decided that “classroom settings” were just too vaguely defined. Not to mention, the building would only be at 10 percent capacity for summer school.

Ultimately, after more than 30 minutes of discussion, the board amended its mask policy by a three-to-one vote. The sole dissenter, Lucy Juedes, said she’s in full support of the board’s collective action.

“We can’t ask, but if you’re vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask. It basically means, bye-bye,” board Vice President Jay Barnes said, removing his mask. 

You can watch the full board meeting on the Alexander district YouTube channel here.