The news that many students and educators have been waiting for with bated (albeit masked) breath, has finally arrived: the Ohio Department of Health’s (“ODH”) mask mandate for Ohio’s schools ends June 2, 2021.
ODH Director Stephanie McCloud issued an Amended Order for “Social Distancing, Facial Coverings and Non-Congregation” on May 17, 2021 which will have the effect of rescinding the Order that originally mandated masks on school grounds, effective June 2, 2021. The Amended Order states: “To maintain consistency and model safe behavior for Ohio’s students, these changes do not affect the existing order requiring the use of facial coverings and other health protocols in our schools [through June 2, 2021]. Only those exemptions listed in the August 13, 2020 Order apply in the education settings, while this Order is in effect until June 2, 2021.”
While ODH no longer will require masks in Ohio schools on June 2, 2021, the federal Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) encourages that all school districts around the country continue to implement mask wearing through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The CDC’s advice accounts for the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been approved for children aged 12 and younger, which amounts to around half of a typical school district’s student population.
Most school boards adopted a Board Policy last summer to mandate mask wearing on school grounds. If your board desires to completely drop the mask mandate, it likely will need to adopt a resolution rescinding that Board Policy. This may be done prospectively at the board’s May 2021 meeting, with an effective rescission date of June 2, 2021. If your board is wary of ending mask-wearing altogether, another option would be to permit only individuals who have been vaccinated to forego masks. However, enforcement would be difficult, and would likely require that proof of vaccination be presented by all staff and students. If your board prefers to exercise an abundance of caution, it could simply retain its existing mask policy until next school year, when vaccines hopefully will be available to all school-age children, or until the CDC advises that masks are no longer needed in school settings.
Regardless of the route your board wants to take, before taking any action, districts are advised to consider whether they have any contractual commitments which require that masks be worn. For example, many boards of education entered into memorandums of understanding (“MOU”) with their unionized work forces during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to address the safety procedures and precautions that would be followed. If an MOU expressly requires masks, the board is advised to seek the union’s consent to amend or rescind it before dropping mask requirements. School boards are also advised to consider whether any local mask mandates will still be in effect on June 2, 2021. For example, a county health department order or a city ordinance may still require your school district to keep masks on.
If you have questions about your district’s intended response to the ODH’s rescission of the mask mandate, contact the attorneys at Pepple & Waggoner today.