AVON LAKE, Ohio — As students return to class after winter break, some districts are implementing new plans and policies in response to increasing cases of COVID-19.
Avon Lake City Schools announced on Dec. 30 they would be reinstituting a face mask requirement "for all staff and students PK-12." The announcement goes on to say the requirement will be in effect through at least Jan. 28, when it will be re-evaluated.
Superintendent Bob Scott says the district has seen cases of the coronavirus increase in both students and staff, and that in order to keep everyone safe and learning in-person, masks were the way to go.
"Masking really needed to happen, and we needed to be proactive," Scott told 3News. "We couldn't wait until we started seeing spread, until we started having teachers go down. We wanted to start from day one."
"We worked and cleaned up a lot of our safety protocols in school, and adding masks, we feel like that's our best way of keeping kids in school every day."
Scott added he knows there are a variety of opinions and feelings towards requiring masks, but says he hopes everyone can work together to get through this time.
"None of us like masking; we will get out of masking just as soon as we can," he admitted. "By working together — students, staff, parents, our community — we'll be able to do that sooner rather than later."
However, not everyone sees it the same way. A group of parents are raising money in a GoFundMe for potential legal action against the district in an effort to stop the mandate. The fundraiser's description details plans to have attorney Warner Mendenhall submit a letter to the district "to halt the mandate" and goes on to say that if the letter is not successful, "we can then proceed with a lawsuit."
The GoFundMe was started by Jennifer Drabik, who wrote in a statement to 3News:
"Medical/mask mandates completely bypass the tenant of informed consent which includes the right to refuse or decline treatment of any kind. Furthermore, we feel parents are best equipped to make medical decisions for our children regarding wearing a mask. We do not feel that school administrators have the right or authority to make these medical decisions for us or our children and simply desire choice in the matter."
Drabik also said there is no legal action being taken against the district. Mendenhall, who is based out of Akron, said he was asked by parents to "communicate with Avon Lake and talk to them about the state laws that apply here, and why I believe that under the current state law, they're in violation of state law by instituting these types of programs."
Mendenhall believes masks can be detrimental to children, and that schools do not have the right to mandate mask wearing. He added that schools need to be brought "back within the limits of their authority."
"The parents need to make the decision; that's the traditional role of the parents," he said. "If the schools want to make that optional and a parent chooses to have a child wear a mask, it should be the parents' decision to make it."
Sharona Hoffman, professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University, says schools put mandates in place all the time, ranging from grooming requirements to vaccine requirements.
"That's what school is about; it is to get an education and to learn how to be a good citizen," she commented. "In order to have that happen you have to have rules, you have to have order, you have to have a good framework in which to learn and to be safe."
Hoffman stated it is a school's duty to protect students while they are at school, and said if a case like this went before a judge, she would think the judge would side with the district.
"I think the judge would rule in favor of the school district with a mask mandate or other mandates that are meant to protect students and staff and faculty from COVID-19," she said. "This is not something that is trivial; this is a life and death matter."
Mendenhall said this is still the beginning of the process and that he will be communicating with Avon Lake City Schools.