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More districts in Northeast Ohio revise policies to require masks in schools

The Kirtland Local Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to mandate masks for students and staff.

KIRTLAND, Ohio — Board members for Kirtland Local Schools voted unanimously Monday night to require students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings. The move came after about an hour of debate during the special board meeting.

Kirtland now joins other Northeast Ohio school districts -- including Lorain, Hudson, Mayfield, Avon Lake, and Willoughby-Eastlake -- that have recently revised safety protocols to bring back mask mandates amid a rise in COVID-19 cases in Ohio fueled by the delta variant.

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

Also on Monday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it has launched a civil rights investigation into whether states that have banned mask mandates are discriminating against students with disabilities who could be at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The department's Office for Civil Rights has opened directed investigations in five states -- Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah - that have barred schools from requiring masks among students and staff.

"It makes perfect sense to me," said Betsy Rader, a Cleveland civil rights attorney, who believes that the federal argument strong. She cited both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protect students with disabilities from discrimination.

"Kids with asthma are at higher risk of complications from Covid," she explained. "So to tell this group of children that you can just stay home and do it online, while those of us who can't be bothered to wear a piece of cloth get to have a regular education? That's not fair and it's actually unconstitutional," said Rader.

Last week, Ohio Republicans introduced House Bill 400, which would prohibit public schools from requiring students to wear masks or other facial coverings.

Both the Centers For Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all students, staff, and visitors wear masks while indoors for the 2021-22 school year.

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