Milton-Union schools require student face coverings

By Matt Clevenger

For Miami Valley Today

WEST MILTON — Face coverings will be required for students and staff at Milton-Union Exempted Village Schools, as part of the district’s plan to start the 2020-2021 school year with in-person classes on a traditional five-day schedule.

“Most of the schools in the county are starting in-person,” M-U schools superintendent Dr. Brad Ritchey said. “There is really no wrong way to do this; it’s only what’s right for our community.”

School board members voted on the face covering requirement, which will now be added to the district’s re-opening plan, during their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, July 20. The board approved the measure by a vote of 3-2; board vice-president Ben Dehus and board members Beth Stasiak and Jessica Brumbaugh voted for the face covering requirement. Board president Doug Thompson and board member Lori Ginn Parsons voted against adding the requirement.

“I hate the fact that we’re having to decide on this,” board member Ben Dehus said of the face covering requirement. “If that’s our end goal, to keep the kids in the classroom as long as we can, I don’t see any other option.”

“I’ve struggled with this for awhile,” board president Doug Thompson said. “I think this kind of decision should be up to the state or federal government. If the state says they strongly recommend masks, then that’s what I think, too.”

“If the students are wearing masks, the amount of kids that will be required to go into quarantine would be limited,” Dehus said. “If they’re not wearing masks in the classroom, we could lose a whole class; we could lose half a grade in quarantine.”

A group of approximately 10 teachers and parents commented on the mask requirement during the meeting, with a majority speaking in favor of requiring student face coverings. High school choir teacher Kelly Mahaney and director of bands Zach Roberts also discussed some of the special difficulties faced by music and band teachers.

“Many high schools are pulling out of their contest seasons,” Roberts said. “We are probably not going to be able to compete as well. I’m working to try to figure out how we can have band class in school in the building; I’m also working on outdoor options.”

“I don’t want to be judged on a contest stage while we’re wearing masks, but we can get a lot done,” Mahaney said.

Board members also voted to amend another section of the draft re-opening plan, raising the infection threat level required to trigger a switch from in-person classes to hybrid or fully-remote schedules. Under the draft re-opening plan, a threat level of 3 (red) in the county would have led to either a hybrid or fully-remote schedule. Board members raised that threshold to a threat level of 4 (purple), and even discussed the possibility of a re-opening plan that isn’t tied to the county’s infection level at all.

“That’s the only measurement we have,” Dehus said.

“The plan has to be flexible and elastic,” Dr. Ritchey said. “We may learn something in the next week that causes us to have to change it.”

In other business, board members also approved a renewal contract with the Stepping Stones Group to provide psychological services for 2020-2021. “Just before Christmas, we lost our school psychologist,” Dr. Ritchey said. “Working with Stepping Stones we landed on Michelle Grimm, who we all like a lot.”

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17.