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Showdown tonight: (Some) Boardman parents vs. masks

The mask debate is coming to Boardman. District officials are hoping for a civil dialogue.

BOARDMAN — At Boardman Local Schools — one of the few districts in the Mahoning Valley to require masking this fall — parents and district leaders are gearing up for a showdown about the future of the policy at tonight's school board meeting. 

The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the Boardman High School cafeteria.

On Aug. 20, 10 days before Monday's start of the school year, the district announced via YouTube it would require masks for students and staff indoors for the first 20 days of school — while COVID-19 spread ratchets up, thanks to the delta variant. 

Superintendent Tim Saxton said he based the decision on a few things: the fact that a universal masking policy would cut down on forced quarantines, guidance from local health departments and a recent spate of cases among teachers.  

The response has been "mixed," Saxton told Mahoning Matters earlier this month. "I get a lot of 'Thank-yous,' and I get a lot of 'How dare you?' So, I'd say it's pretty equal, because people are passionate on both sides."

The announcement riled some parents enough to create a website that considers segregating the district's "at-risk" population. The website features the school logo and claims to be owned by "Boardman Ohio Parents Organization." There is no contact information available on the site. 

"We ALL need to work on a more effective solution to this rapidly escalating issue," the website reads, the issue being "masking healthy children."

The site invites parents to select statements they agree with. The potential responses include:

  • "Covid is not a serious health risk to kids so this is just a totalitarian rule."
  • "I believe the news media is responsible for the level of fear surrounding the subject of covid."
  • "I believe anyone can choose to identify as being "at risk."
  • "I think separating the "at risk" children from healthy children is a good solution."

Rich Wyant, father of a Boardman freshman, created the website. 

He got involved, because "when you get down to the nuts and bolts and look at the risk to children, it is zero ... Even if, in theory, we included adults, this still does not affect over 99 percent of the population."

He argues the district is "labeling everybody as 'at risk,' but I'm not at risk. My children are not at risk."

Wyant concedes some people are actually "at risk," and questions if those people should send their kids to school at all. 

"Sometimes when mom has cancer," he said hypothetically. "The kids do not go to school during that time they're homeschooled so they can spend time with mom and their final days. That is how we live our life ... If you have cancer, keep your kid home."

In situations where that's not possible, he proposes separating at-risk kids and teachers at schools and following extensive precautions, like face and desk shields. 

When it comes to the quarantine rules — kids who wear masks don't have to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19 at school — Wyant thinks it's a strategy to force kids to wear masks at school. 

"What I wanted to do was propose to them solutions," he said, "because that [CDC guidance on quarantining at schools] sounds like a forceful method, a tactic. And I'm not sure what's behind the masks, what the purpose is to shove that agenda."

Saxton said he knew about the website Monday but hadn't taken a look at it. 

Last week, Poland school board members repeatedly struggled to maintain order over a mob of anti-mask parents who heckled their disagreeing peers. 

Saxton is hopeful today's meeting will be a fruitful dialogue. He intends to "listen and seek to understand both sides of the issue from the parent perspective."

"You hope to God that everyone will act mature and like adults, listen to each other," district spokesperson Amy Radinovic said. "I welcome to hear what everybody has to say. Both sides. As long as everybody's got their ears open, too."

At the board's September meeting, Saxton plans to make a recommendation about the future of the policy. He will base his recommendation on local infection rates and the policy's ability to keep kids in school — the policy's goal. 

Ohio is reporting case totals on par with last winter's pre-vaccine surge. 

Statewide, 3,091 new cases were reported Monday, including 62 new cases in Mahoning County (for a total of 24,237), 50 in Trumbull (17,934) and 36 in Columbiana (10,076), according to the Ohio Department of Health's latest update.

The average rate of positive coronavirus tests jumped to 11.2 percent on Saturday, the highest that rate has been since Jan. 14. The two-week positivity rate on Monday was 11 percent in Columbiana County; 8.8 percent in Trumbull; and 7.9 percent in Mahoning.

"We all have a lot of pride in Boardman," Saxton said. "I'm just hoping for a good, positive conversation."

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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