By Matt Clevenger
For the Miami Valley Today
CASSTOWN — More than 50 concerned parents, students and teachers attended the Miami East Local Schools Board of Education meeting on Monday, Sept. 20, voicing their concerns about the possible return of masking and other COVID restrictions.
Several parents spoke at the meeting, along with a group of teachers representing the Miami East Education Association, during a heated discussion that eventually led to one parent, Jerry Flora, being ruled out of order by the board.
“There is no out of order,” Flora said. “We’re not going to mask kids; stop masking the kids, putting them in bondage. I told you; if you guys don’t believe in God, you better start getting with it because it’s coming.”
“Stop masking the kids, and stop telling me that you know better than me,” he said. “I don’t want my kids masked; all these people in here don’t want their kids masked. They don’t want you to decide that they’ve got to be masked.”
The discussion started during the public comments portion of the meeting. Masking and other COVID restrictions were not on the agenda for Monday night’s meeting.
“I’m not here to argue masks or vaccines or any of that stuff,” parent Jennifer Knisley said. “While we want our kids to be safe at school, there are other things that are more of a risk to them than COVID.”
Parent Marcus Duff suggested adding a religious exemption to any future masking guidelines.
“There’s a religious component here as well,” he said. “God created men and women in his image. Requiring a child to cover their face starts to infringe on that a little bit. I’ve got a 6-year-old, a 9-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, and I don’t like making them cover their faces.”
“I don’t care if you want to mask your kid or not, that’s cool,” parent Lyndsey Taylor said. “If you want to give your kid a shot, that’s neat, too. I’m not doing either, and the last time I checked, a mandate is not a law. It is our constitutional, God-given right to be a free people.”
Taylor said her father recently passed away, 39 days after being diagnosed with COVID-19. “The contact tracing and quarantining orders that are in place make absolutely no sense,” she said. “Also, as a side note, masks do not work, and I know this first hand.”
“If masking truly worked, my father would still be here, and you can’t change my mind,” she said. “He took every safety precaution and followed it to a T. He listened to mainstream media and allowed those communists to instill fear and propaganda in his mind.”
Board members also heard a prepared statement from members of the Miami East Education Association, delivered by a group of approximately 10 teachers. “We represent the majority of teachers in our district,” the statement said. “Several weeks ago, we received an e-mail from our building administrator directing us to prepare our students for remote or hybrid learning options, should the need arise to utilize the procedures amidst the growing COVID concern.”
“This struck an understandable note of concern. One thing experts agree on is the risk to students who are missing out on school is far greater than the risk of wearing masks,” the statement said. “We surveyed our membership to make sure that we best represent their voices, and over 85% of our member teachers prefer that the board issue a mask mandate before switching to remote or hybrid school format.”
In addition to COVID restrictions, some parents also voiced concerns about the district’s class sizes and programs for gifted students.
“My concern is the current state of Miami East and the future of Miami East,” parent Stevie Myers said. “Currently, my girls are in classroom sizes of 26 and 28 kids. Volunteers are currently not allowed into the school due to COVID.”
“We also have a limited number of Chromebooks, so teachers have to schedule their Chromebook time, and some carts don’t have enough working Chromebooks to cover the entire class,” Myers said. “What are we going to do when the new subdivision is developed and our student population explodes? The subdivision will have 167 new homes.”
Board members responded to the public comments later in the meeting.
“We need your support to be able to do some of these things,” Board President Mark Iiames said. “We need the focus to shift from whether we’re putting masks on kids to how we’re making sure they’re educated every day.”
“We need to hear voices,” board member Brandon Fellers said. “We need to hear what your kids are saying to you. Thank you for your attendance, but when we talk about attendance, this would be great to have had this all year long, last year, the year prior and to continue to do this. This is where we make changes.”
“It was not on the agenda today, but it is important to have that discussion,” he said of possible COVID restrictions. “If we go that direction, what will we do?“
“Nobody here wants teachers or students to have to mask up,” Fellers said. “Nobody wants anybody in this community to get sick, ill or have issues to deal with mentally.”
“Let’s be realistic; this is something new for everybody,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the schools open. We’re trying to keep athletics going. We’re trying to do as many things as we can.”
Board members also addressed class sizes and Chromebooks.
“When we look at class sizes for Miami East, for the last 30 years, they’ve been pretty close to where we are right now,” Board Vice-President John Demmitt said. “We’ve had some flux where we have one year that’s kind of a bigger year, and then other years, they’ll go back to being smaller.”
“The Chromebooks, I think we’re about 100 short,” Demmitt said. “That’s something that we always look at increasing.”
“Chromebooks were pretty difficult to come by in the last two years,” Iiames said. “It’s not a funding issue for the Chromebooks; it was a general, we can’t get them in mass quantities.”
Board members’ next regularly scheduled meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 18.