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ASHLAND — The board at Ashland City Schools will vote on updating the district’s rules regarding facial masks and quarantines during a special meeting Wednesday.
The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the district’s administrative office, 1407 Claremont Avenue.
The special meeting stems from Monday's work session where board members Brandon Wells and Fred Gingrich delivered presentations that included data about the virus and pleas to update rules.
The school board did not implement a mandatory masking rule at the beginning of the school year as part of its overarching protocols. Those rules also stated quarantining would not be required if the person affected received a COVID-19 vaccine or if the person “consistently” wears a mask.
The district did not define what the word “consistently” means.
Wednesday’s agenda, available on the district’s website, includes two resolutions related to masks.
The first is a rule that would require staff, students and visitors wear masks in all buildings and school buses for a period of six weeks starting Sept. 16.
The second proposed rule is a mask mandate people in buildings where children under the age of 11 are present. The rule would also be in effect for six weeks starting Sept. 16.
Wells brought forth the resolutions. He said the second rule is a safeguard in case the first, more general mask mandate fails.
When asked by a reporter if he has enough votes from his fellow board members to implement a mask mandate, he said “I don’t know.”
“I’m hoping. I’ll say it that way. I’m hoping we have a majority vote for the masks in order to protect our students and staff and keep them in school. Remote learning was a challenge for … everyone. I don’t want to get anything close to that again,” Wells said.
The district did away with a remote learning option when it began class this year.
Wednesday’s agenda also includes updated rules regarding quarantining, or isolating after exposure to the virus.
If approved, the rule would require students exhibiting symptoms to quarantine until recovered or receive a negative COVID-19 antigen test. Those who receive a positive test would be required to quarantine for 10 days or until they receive a negative test.
The rule would also require district administration to call parents or guardians of students who come into close contact with another COVID-19 positive student. That person would also be recommended to be tested for the virus.
Close contacts, however, would not be required to quarantine or stop extracurricular activities, the proposed rule states.
“If a close contact student does quarantine voluntarily, they will not face penalties if work is made up,” the rule states.
The school district reported three staff members and 34 students as active COVID-19 cases on Sept. 13.
The Wednesday meeting was scheduled after the board met Monday for a work session.
Wells and Gingrich delivered the presentations to their fellow board members, district officials and several community members on Monday. Wells said the board’s meeting room was “packed” with “people standing in the back.”
Board president Zack Truax said he scheduled Monday’s work session last week after Wells and Gingrich reached out to him regarding COVID-19 protocols in the district.
“I told them this is something we need to discuss during a public meeting. And so it’s really too bad that it seems deliberate misinformation was put out about it,” Truax said, referring to a rumor Monday’s meeting was an “emergency meeting” and that parents were being barred from commenting.
“We’ve never had public comments at a work session,” he said.
The work session included an agenda with other items of discussion, such as general district construction updates and an announcement about an upcoming vaccination clinic for district staff and students.
The discussion surrounding COVID-19 protocols comes two weeks following the district’s first day of school. A few days into school, a parent circulated a petition that urges the school district to “require universal indoor masking for students” and other measures to fight the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
The petition had earned 250 signatures as of Tuesday.
One of those who signed it is Maura Grady, who has two high-school aged children at Ashland High School. She also attended Monday's meeting.
"If the school is a vector for infection, it seems like a good idea to try to reduce that through a temporary, indoor mask requirement," she said. "It seems like a simple thing to do and (the district) wouldn't have to change too much."
Grady teaches in Ashland University's English department. The university implemented an indoor mask requirement at the start of the school year.
She's also in favor of the district updating its quarantine rules.
"I think we're all in agreement to keep kids in schools. And it seems masking is the best way to do that. If there are fewer students out (quarantining) and fewer students sent home with covid the better. Plus, it's safer for staff and faculty if everyone is masked," she said.
Grady said she realizes masks are not perfect or impenetrable shields, but believes they do work in reducing the spread of the virus.
"I'm concerned (the board) is not going to do anything and we'll be back to where we were and worse," she said.