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Masks no longer required at Cincinnati Public Schools

medical mask

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education voted Monday evening to make masks optional within the district starting Tuesday.

When COVID-19 cases in the community are low or medium, mask-wearing will be voluntary for students, staff and visitors. When community cases are high, CPS will recommend the Board require mask-wearing again.

While masks are optional, board member Brandon Craig says staff need to support those who continue to wear masks, worrying others will bully individuals who continue wearing masks.

"We don't want to make any student feel as though they can't be true to how they feel in their comfort levels while getting their education in our district," Craig said.

Board member Mary Wineberg voiced her support for making masks optional before voting to amend the policy.

"I am in support of us having masks be optional, going to listen to the science and I'm going to leave it to the science, so I do think it is time," Wineberg said.

During the hearing of the public, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers representative Kendra Phelps voiced her concerns with making masks optional, specifically parents who enrolled their children in CPS due to their previous mask policy.

"For them to now have to make a decision if their children are going to have to switch to CDA (Cincinnati Digital Academy) at this point because they don't feel comfortable with optional masks is a huge disruption to learning," Phelps said.

Students, staff, and visitors who test positive for COVID-19 are recommended to wear masks for 10 days upon returning to the district. Those infected would be required to isolate for the first five days upon testing positive according to the CDC's quarantine and isolation guidelines.

Students ages five and under are not eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. All preschool classrooms, autism and multiple disabilities units now include air purifiers. Teachers and staff in these classrooms have been issued N-95 masks as an extra precaution.

The federal TSA face mask requirement for all transportation networks, including public transportation, runs through March 18. According to CPS legal counsel, masks would not be "necessarily required" on school buses, but they would still need to be worn on Metro buses.

The amended policy will not impact the district's vaccine policy. In September 2021, CPS became the first school district in Ohio to approve a vaccine mandate for employees. The policy requires all district employees and co-located partners to receive COVID vaccines. "Co-located partners" include health partners, resource coordinators, school resource officers and others working out of a district building.

The county's current COVID rates means Hamilton County residents do not need to wear masks indoors, according to the new CDC guidelines. The CDC also dropped its recommendation for universal school masking as part of the new guidelines. Instead, it will recommend masking only in communities at a high level of risk.

During the school year, more than 4,200 students and 1,400 staff members within the district have contracted COVID-19.

In August 2021, CPS's board voted to require masks for the school district citing the transmission of the Delta variant within the Tri-State at the time.

Last Monday, Iranetta Wright was selected to become the new superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools. Board President Ben Lindy says Wright is expected to start by May 1.

At 10 a.m. this Friday, Wright will be at John P. Parker School as part of a welcoming event introducing the district's new leader to the public.

Board priorities going forward

The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education has a new list of priorities it seeks to accomplish by June 13. See the list below:

  • Ensure the new superintendent has a strong start in the district.
  • Support the passage of a strong budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
  • Support the adoption of a strong transportation plan for the upcoming school year.
  • Begin coaching series on effective board governance.

This story has been updated.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.