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Mask debate continues as Northeast Ohio students head back to class

Even as school districts begin welcoming back students, the debate over requiring masks or not remains a hot-button topic.

CLEVELAND — As school districts across Northeast Ohio continue to head back to class, the hot-button issue of masking continues to loom large. Earlier this week, Gov. Mike DeWine urged districts to mandate face coverings and health experts say that wearing one is the best way to limit the spread of COVID in schools. 

It's something that Cleveland schools are requiring as they prepare to welcome back in full classrooms for the first time in quite a while.

"We are just working really hard to make sure that our schools are the places where parents feel safe sending their kids," says Shari Obrenski, the president of the Cleveland Teacher's Union.

RELATED: Northeast Ohio school districts announce mask guidelines for 2021-22 school year

The union held a back-to-school rally on Saturday, along with members of the American Federation of Teachers and the State Board of Education, to give a final push at easing concerns of families sending kids back to packed classes for the first time in more than a year.

"We had hybrid learning in Cleveland back in the spring," Obrenski says. "The last quarter of the year we were in person, but we weren't five days a week and we didn't have all of our students back. So this is the first time that we will be back in person five days a week with all of our students and we're very excited."

Even with the excitement, teaching organizations realize there's still a lot of concern from parents.

"We know the protocols are very important," says Randi Weingarten, President of American Teachers Federation. "90 percent of our members are already vaccinated, nationwide. We have the largest, of all professions, we and doctors, are the most vaccinated."

Although a high percentage of teachers are vaccinated, many students can't be. That's one of the reasons districts are beginning to require masks. 

RELATED: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine says COVID-19 Delta Variant has put return to classroom at risk; pleads with school districts to implement mask policies

If you're having a hard time getting your younger children to wear a mask to school, Dr. Maureen Ahmann, a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic, says to be honest with them on why they need to wear one. She says it'll also help if you find the right one that works for them.

"The short answer is the one that they're going to leave on, because there are a lot of different kinds of masks," Dr. Ahmann says. "You want it to fit across the nose and you want it to be tighter here, fit nice and snug to the face, and also not pop off the nose and mouth when they're talking or laughing. Usually the ones that go right under the chin are the best ones."

There'll be some challenges to the school year and protocols and recommendations may change. However, teachers and doctors both say if everyone does what's best for the kids, we'll get through it.

"We know we're all in this together, but we're doing everything we can to make our schools as safe as we possibly can," Obrenski says.

Dr. Ahmann says, "You know we're kind of just putting on our seat belts and getting ready for a bumpy ride, but everybody in the community can help smooth the turbulence if they put on a mask."

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