By Sam Wildow
TROY — In front of a crowded gymnasium on Monday, the Troy Board of Education voted 4-1 to require face masks for all students, staff, and visitors, taking effect on Wednesday, Sept. 15.
Board member Sue Borchers was the lone vote against the policy, specifically voting “not yet” during the board’s regular meeting, which had been moved from the library inside the Troy Junior High School to the gymnasium due to the hundreds of parents and community members in attendance.
Prior to the vote, Borchers called for the creation of a committee to discuss alternatives and compromises.
“Let’s be innovative. Let’s be creative,” Borchers said. Borchers also suggested tabling the face mask policy instead of voting on it, which board member Michael Ham also supported, but no official motion was made.
“I do want kids to be safe. If we have kids in the emergency room, my heart’s going to break all over,” Borchers said. “I don’t want kids in the hospital suffering. I do trust parents to make the right decision. Please, please, please, if your kids have any symptoms, keep them at home.”
“As a board, it is our responsibility to provide the best educational, safe, and healthy opportunity within the school district for all students,” board member Doug Trostle said. He said the district started the school year with masks being optional, but noted the COVID numbers “are going up now and we need to address those numbers.”
Board President Tom Kleptz thanked the crowd, which filled the bleachers in the gym, for being civil and cordial during the meeting.
Kleptz also mentioned his son, who graduated from Troy High School in 2020.
“‘He didn’t get a fourth quarter of his senior year,” Kleptz said. “He would have killed to wear a mask (if it would have allowed them) to have senior prom, to play his senior year of tennis that he had played all three previous years. We didn’t have that choice. We have a choice today to try and keep our schools operating with the least disruption.”
Kleptz, Trostle, and Ham, along with board member Ginny Beamish, then voted in favor of the mask requirement policy.
Parents and community members from both sides of the face mask debate spoke during the board meeting, mostly against the requirement of wearing face masks.
“You don’t answer to the health board … You answer to us,” Jake Smith of Troy said. “This community overwhelmingly disapproves of mask mandates.”
Melanie Mergler, who stated she had recovered from COVID-19 and was also immunocompromised, said she was representing a number of parent groups when she said she was against a mask mandate.
“I don’t think we should burden our children with the protection of us,” Mergler said.
Mergler was among a handful of speakers who spoke on natural immunity. Immunity is gained through the presence of antibodies, which are blood proteins that counteract specific antigens, and natural immunity typically refers to the type of antibodies gained after natural infection with the actual disease and recovery.
Jenni Bolton, who stated she was a primary care nurse practitioner, also mentioned natural immunity, as well as “freedom of choice.” Bolton advocated for letting parents decide for their students.
“I’m coming to you and speaking to as a nurse practitioner,” Bolton said.
Bolton addressed the delta variant, saying it is not a more severe strain, “it is more viral.”
“It’s spreading to more individuals rapidly, but I could tell you that the best type of immunity for these children, because we don’t have a vaccine, is natural immunity,” Bolton said. “The only way to protect them right now is to, honestly, I hate to say it, but let it run its course.”
Parents also spoke out against quarantining kids exposed to the virus. Brian Honeycutt of Troy said his daughter had recently been quarantined for the second time, and he asked, “Where’s the plan for kids who have been quarantined more than once?”
“You have decided to send healthy kids homes,” said Paul Edwards of Troy, who also spoke against masks and quarantines.
“It should be the parents’ choice,” said Todd Emery of Troy about face masks.
Levi Fox, a candidate for the Troy Board of Education, addressed the board and the crowd twice on Monday night.
“Masks would be a distraction in the classroom,” Fox said. He advocated for “freedom to make health choices,” as well as “freedom to live and smile.”
“Provide them with an education. You’re not in charge of their health. I’m running for school board on Nov. 2 because no one cares more … about my three boys than I do,” Fox said.
Fox also addressed the crowd saying, “Parents, everyone out there, no matter what the board decides in this resolution, I encourage you to send your child to school whether or not you have them in a mask. The choice is yours.”At the end of meeting, Fox again encouraged parents to file religious exemptions to the mask policy.
Other parents addressed the line in the policy that states, “the Board ratifies and authorizes the superintendent, in consultation with the Troy City Schools Board of Education, to modify the face mask requirement as he deems advisable, depending on the local conditions.”
“One person should not get to choose what’s best for our kids,” Jessica Melvin of Troy said.
Troy Superintendent Chris Piper said that part of the policy allows him to remove the mask mandate, with consultation from the board, at a later date without having to hold a board meeting first.
A few individuals spoke in favor of the face mask requirement, including Carrie Arnold of Troy, who cited a number of organizations in support of face masks, including a joint statement from the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education that stated that masks have been proven effective at slowing the spread of the virus.
Arnold also referenced a letter signed by the CEOs of Ohio’s six children’s hospitals, which stated, “More kids are in the ICU with COVID than ever before.” The letter urges Ohioans “to help protect our state’s children” by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in school and at large gatherings, physical distancing, and hand washing.
Justin Crews, a social studies teacher at the Troy Junior High School, also spoke out in favor of the mask requirement, saying, “The right thing isn’t always popular.”
“COVID is here, and it is here in force,” Piper said. Piper, during his COVID-19 update to the board, compared COVID-19 infection rates from the current school year to last year, saying there were 146 positive cases last year and currently 104 positive cases this year as of Friday, Sept. 10. He said there were 17 additional cases reported on Monday.
“The evidence is extremely clear that the COVID infection rate for our students is seven times higher — six times highers — than it was last year,” Piper said.
He said the attendance at Cookson Elementary School was at 75 percent on Monday, meaning one in four students were not in school. A number of attendees shouted from the crowd at that time, as well as at other points during Piper’s presentation.
“We have had 18 COVID positive students at Van Cleve,” Piper said. He said that 12 of the students sent home to quarantine after getting exposed did test positive for virus. “The comment is made that sometimes healthy children get sent home from school to quarantine. That is correct, but also, here is evidence that we also send home students who are close contacts who do develop COVID, and if those students were in school, they would continue to spread COVID.
“I can tell you with confidence that last school year, over the course of 169 days of instruction, I can say with confidence that there’s no evidence that any students caught COVID at our schools last year,” Piper said. He said he could not say the same for this year.
Also during his presentation, Piper discussed the COVID cases at Cookson and Van Cleve that prompted the district to discuss shutting those buildings down for a short period of time, which the district has not done.
Piper’s presentation, along with additional quarantine and COVID-19 procedure information, can be found on the district’s website at www.troy.k12.oh.us.