As of Thursday, mask-wearing for Washington Court House City Schools’ (WCHCS) students and staff has been mandated in response to COVID-19.
In a video on social media, WCHCS Superintendent Dr. Tom Bailey explained, “we came back to the school year hoping that we were through the pandemic, and that we were through the severity of everything that was going on this past school year.”
Bailey went on to explain that it is “quite evident” that there are still challenges similar to last school year as surrounding school districts have started to go remote.
“We do not want to get to that place for our kids. I am committed to keeping our students in (in-person) learning 100% of the days this school year and, because of that, I feel it’s necessary that we go back to a mandated mask protocol for all of our faculty, staff and students when we are in the buildings,” he said.
Masks are available for students and/or staff who need them, although parents were encouraged in the video to launder kids’ masks from last year if they’d like to wear their favorite or “special” masks.
“I appreciate your patience, I appreciate your grace, and I appreciate all your well wishes and your prayers during this time. It’s a very difficult time for all of us, but again, I think it is valuable for our students’ mental health and for our students’ academic success in the future, and the future of our community, for our kids to be in-person learning 100% of the time, and I will do whatever it takes to get there,” said Bailey.
When asked by the Record-Herald about the first day of the mask mandate, Bailey said: “There were very few issues from our students today. Blue Lions are resilient, and they continue to prove that each and every day. When it came out that this was our best chance at staying in person, they understood, masked up, and went right back to working on their academics like nothing had changed. We are beyond proud of all of our students, staff, and faculty, who came to school today ready to engage, inspire, and grow, not letting this small adjustment disrupt their education.”
When asked about consequences for students who refuse to wear a mask, Bailey responded: “The school reserves the right to issue consequences to any student who does not follow any school rules, including properly wearing their mask. If a student continues to refuse, we will provide an accommodated space for them in order to keep the rest of the students safe and not risk any exposure to the rest of the student body.”
Bailey added that currently, WCHCS does not have a virtual option to offer internally, as it creates significant staffing issues for in-person students.
“Parents always reserve the right to enroll their child in an online charter school or open enroll to another district if they so choose,” he said.
The district is continuing to track its COVID numbers very closely, Bailey said, as well as other illnesses that could pose a risk to students and staff.
“Currently we have six active cases of COVID-19 in students across our district and no staff members. We have been lucky so far this year, as many of our neighbors have had higher numbers already, resulting in many already transitioning back to mandated mask protocols and even remote learning,” Bailey said.
WCHS also released the following as its main reason for the decision:
“The Ohio Department of Health dictates the requirements and process to which students and staff are quarantined. The first step of this contact tracing process asks three things of a district: are students and staff wearing masks, are desks at least three feet apart, and are there documented prevention policies and procedures in place? If the district has all three enacted, then those who are exposed but are not showing symptoms do not have to quarantine. If all three of these items are not implemented, then the likelihood of quarantining grows exponentially.
“While we have continued our rigorous sanitation and prevention procedures and ensuring our students remain physically distant from the beginning of school, we did not start the year with masks as a requirement. Because of the state health department’s procedures, all of our students and staff who became exposed were most likely going to be quarantined, regardless of vaccination status or whether or not they are showing symptoms. Although we only have six active cases in our student body, we unfortunately have 68 students and one staff member quarantined due to contact tracing procedures.
“As you may recall, last year WCHCS remained in person the vast majority of the school year, only moving to remote at Washington Middle School for one week and only had to do four weeks of hybrid learning district-wide around the holidays. While our actual positive cases of COVID-19 in the buildings were relatively low during these stretches, one of the main tipping points for this was that simply too many staff members had been quarantined from exposure, making in-person operations unsustainable. We are already seeing this happen in our neighboring districts, and we do not want that to happen here at WCHCS, so we are going to do everything we can to make sure it does not happen.
“Regardless of political, medical, or personal opinion, the Ohio Department of Health’s quarantining procedures for schools are quite clear: no matter what other preventative procedures we have in place, if we are not wearing masks, then those exposed will most likely be quarantined.
“This mandatory mask protocol will give us the best chance to stay in school, period.”
Those with questions can reach out to the WCHCS district office at 740-335-6620.
Reach journalist Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.