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Talawanda School District votes to mandate masks

<p>The Talawanda School District closed for the rest of this week due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and staff shortages.</p>

The Talawanda School District closed for the rest of this week due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and staff shortages.

Oxford’s Talawanda School Board voted 4-1 in favor of instating an indoor mask mandate for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Previously, at its July 8 meeting, the board passed a resolution stating that elementary school students and all visitors would be required to wear a mask, while masks will be optional for middle and high school students. 

However, the new resolution extends the requirement to all students.

Before the vote, a number of community members came forward to express their thoughts about the potential mandate.

Summer Garland, a parent from Hanover Township, spoke in opposition to the mandate because it would take away personal choice from parents.

“I believe that every parent here wants what is best for their child, but … there is a difference in our opinions on what is best, which is why I am asking you to give families a choice in whether to mask our children,” Garland said. “We are not going to change each other’s minds on this issue, so I am asking for a compromise.”

Dr. Jim Davis, a pediatrician in Oxford for the last 39 years, was one of only a few community members who spoke in favor of the mandate.

“Last year in my office, I saw less strep throat, less ear infections, less pneumonia [and] the least number of respiratory infections that I’ve seen in my entire career,” David said. “Masking clearly decreased the spread of all those respiratory infections … I don’t understand why people wouldn’t want to do the best possible thing to protect our teachers and our children.”

Ron Siliko, a parent of two sons in the district, started a petition to make masks optional for Talawanda School District students, which has received more than 500 signatures as of Aug. 17.

Siliko spoke on behalf of all the petition’s signers at the meeting, citing COVID-19’s relatively low death rate among children.

“There have only been 15 [COVID-related] hospitalizations ages 0 through 19 in Butler County in the past 16 months,” Siliko said. “In making this request, we are asking the board to look at our local situation rather than engaging in medical nationalism.”

Amy Shaiman, a parent of a child at Kramer Elementary, also presented a petition at the meeting. Her petition, signed by more than 245 people at the time of the meeting, called for a continuation of TSD’s mask requirement.

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Shaiman also criticized TSD for not requiring masks at events in district buildings, such as during teacher training, and said she felt the district was not taking COVID seriously enough.

“We do not tell kids allergic to peanuts and tree nuts that their allergies are optional and a matter of free choice … we take it seriously, and those around that child avoid peanuts and tree nuts,” Shaiman said. “We take care of each other.”

Before the vote on the mandate took place, Partick Meade, a member of the board, expressed support for masking and urged the audience to look to health experts for guidance.

“When there’s something wrong with my car, I take it to a mechanic,” Meade said. “The Ohio Department of Health recommends masks in schools K-12. I don’t know medicine, but I know those people know more than I know.”

The resolution passed, with board member Rebecca Howard as the only “no” vote. The board said it will revisit the mandate when Butler County’s vaccination rate increases but did not give an exact date.