Masks, the attention-grabbing debate as Loveland

(and all) schools begin the new school year

By Chuck Gibson   

LOVELAND, OH (August 9, 2021) – Once again, back-to-school has turned into a debate about COVID safety issues as parents and students prepare for the August 18, first day of school in the Loveland City School District (LCSD) schools.

School kids wearing masks (Photo Credit Dreamstine Tom Wang)

While just one year ago, the question(s) (yes plural) were many and centered on if schools would be open at all, and how they would protect students and staff against infection from the COVID-19 coronavirus. There were other questions then about extracurricular activities, wearing masks, quarantine guidelines if students or staff tested positive. Somehow school administrators came up with plans. Students and teachers adjusted and navigated their way through. There was even sports, band, theater and other extracurricular activities by the time 2020/2021 school year came to a close.

Here we are again, some schools are already back in session. Loveland is less than 10 days away from “First Day” and COVID (mainly the variant) has raised its ugly head again. It seems this time the debate is focused squarely on the issue of the mask-wearing policy for students. LCSD Superintendent Michael Broadwater released a video message to the Loveland Schools community last Friday, August 6, to answer questions about what the school guidelines will be for the start of the school year regarding mask-wearing and COVID health policies; including quarantine rules when, and if, positive COVID cases occur. You don’t have to look too far, or listen too closely to see and hear the outcry from both sides of the issue. It is all over the local social media group pages. Another media source posted a survey, then removed it without publishing results. By the way, the message from the superintendent made it clear the decision for students to wear, or not wear a mask will be up to each individual student family – parents.

The video message sent out Friday included the email information for Loveland school families to reach out to the Superintendent, or to members of the LCSD Board of Education. Broadwater confirmed they have received many emails on the subject of mask wearing and quarantine guidelines. The message he sent out Friday also included a link to the Ohio Department of Health Quarantine guidelines current to Friday, August 6, 2021. Additionally, the message made clear Loveland Schools plans to follow the recommendations of the governing health department regarding COVID and all other school health policies to protect students and staff.

Mike Broadwater, LCSD Superintendent showing his Loveland Spirit already (Chuck Gibson)

“I put a video out for the parents letting them know where the resolution is, as it stands: which was mask was optional based on parent choice,” said Broadwater. “That resolution is still in place. In order to have a different plan, there would have to be a motion for a different resolution.”

Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 10, the Loveland School Board, including Superintendent Michael Broadwater, has a work session planned to discuss everything. While multiple issues will certainly be addressed, there is no doubt right now the mask issue is top of mind for Loveland Schools families and will be at the forefront of discussion. This is not unique to LCSD with the questions all across our nation and the world regarding the COVID pandemic.

“Every district in the area is in the same situation,” Broadwater explained. “We’re monitoring everything, we’re monitoring what Ohio Health says, what Hamilton County Public Health says. Every Friday every Superintendent meets with Hamilton County Department of Public Health.”

Broadwater says things could change rapidly just as he noted on the video last week Hamilton County came out with quarantine guidelines Wednesday that were usurped by Ohio Department of Health the very next day

“Things are pretty fluid right now,” said Broadwater. “At the end of the day, we just want to make sure to take care of kids and the community is part of all that. The community has to be willing to do that with us.”

Bottom line right now is the community is speaking out on both sides of the issue. While Broadwater says he has not had any direct individual conversations by phone, or in person with parents, he has been receiving the email feedback.

“I couldn’t really say one way or the other,” he said. “I know everybody is really passionate about their side. Whatever the decision, we’re still going to strongly recommend the community to get vaccinations, and if they don’t have vaccinations, to mask their children so we can contain this. There is not going to be any mandatory anything.”

All of the feedback will be considered along with the best sources of information to guide policy decision to provide the safest environment for the students of Loveland Schools. Loveland School Board member Kevin Dougherty affirmed the information shared by Superintendent Broadwater that they have received email responses from the community regarding the option for students to mask. He says the issue stretches back to earlier than last week.

Kevin Dougherty, current appointed member LCSD BOE (FILE photo)

“There’s been a heavy amount of traffic, not just in the last 24 hours, but I’d say stretching back into last week and the week before,” said Dougherty. “Obviously we have people on both sides of the issue if you get it reduced to those in favor of parental choice and those that believe if must be mandated. People are falling into one of those two columns right now.”

Dougherty says all the information is helpful. They want to hear from the community. Like Broadwater, he says they must use all the “information and expertise” available to reach a decision (policy) they are confident is the right decision. He confirmed it will be a part of the discussion Tuesday night at the work session.

“There is more information that becomes available every day,” Dougherty said. “Researchers are learning more about this Delta Variant. This is one of the most dynamic situations, I think, we’ve had in quite some time.”

Dougherty talked about the Delta Variants as being a very different threat. Evidence seems clear to him that vaccinations are highly effective in protecting against the threat.

“The more people vaccinated, clearly, the better,” he said. “We do understand we have a substantial part of the student population who are not eligible for the vaccine. I imagine it will happen in the coming months, but it’s not here today.”

It leaves them with the understanding there is a vulnerability, but without any clear knowledge of just how serious that vulnerability may be.

“For parents, it is a very real issue,” Dougherty said. “We understand that.”

Dougherty wishes everyone could agree on few basic things like Delta is real, it is highly infectious and vaccines work against it. On the mask part of that equation he says: “. . . masks, despite all the controversy about them, the best scientific evidence is that they are another layer of protection.”

All that said, the common theme from Dougherty, the other board members, Superintendent Michael Broadwater and likely all the LCSD staff and administrators is that they want what is best for the students. That starts with allowing parents, students, families to make informed decisions on what is personally best for the health and safety of their child while providing a quality learning environment.

CLICK HERE to visit Loveland Schools online.