State dives into face masks issues

Like many other COVID-19 pandemic issues, mandatory face masks for students at schools is causing a divide.

The number of cases is hitting new highs on a routine basis with Ohio not seeing anything like this since January. We’re heading in the wrong direction. Many remain unvaccinated.

Kids under the age of 12 can’t get a vaccine so while at school they’re not that protected from the virus. They also can be carriers who bring it home to vulnerable adults. That’s why some school districts have mandated face masks for all. Others have chosen some sort of mask requirement.

Rather than leave the choice to school officials, Republicans in the state Legislature are getting involved.

State Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, recently introduced a bill that would prohibit schools in the state from mandating masks for students and leave the decision up to parents.

“Through this bill, we are reiterating (constituents’) opposition as it should be up to the discretion of parents on whether their kids should wear a mask or not,” Loychik said in a prepared statement.

As with a number of other issues, the public deserves to hear more from Loychik. But the freshman legislator makes pronouncements and avoids those in the media and his own constituents who have legitimate questions.

Loychik seems particularly upset about mask mandates for students.

His kindergarten son was “forcibly masked with possibly an unclear understanding as to why,” according to a letter Loychik sent to the superintendent of his Lakeview school district and shared on Facebook.

When the state Legislature returns to session later this month, there’s a decent chance Loychik’s bill will be approved. It could possibly be fast-tracked with most schools already opened.

This is a Republican-controlled Legislature that held numerous hearings on a bill to ban all mandatory vaccines, including those against childhood diseases.

Loychik’s bill is tame in comparison.

Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, introduced a similar bill in state Senate, which would not permit the state board of education, the Ohio Department of Education and local school districts to require anyone to wear face masks in schools.

The Loychik bill would not prohibit school districts from requiring adults to wear face masks. It applies only to students.

State Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, said Loychik’s bill is “good legislation. The public and people with kids in K-12 want their children to go in-person and not be required to wear masks.”

With the high rate of COVID-19 cases in the state in recent weeks, some schools may have to stop in-person instruction. It’s already happened at some districts in the state that recently opened.

Democrats, who are Ohio Legislature’s minority, want school districts to have local control.

State Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, said: “The school districts should implement their own policies to not only serve their students but also their personnel.”

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, was more blunt.

“Maybe (Loychik) needs to sit through a seventh-grade science class again. We need to protect our children.”

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has pleaded with school districts to require masks to protect against the virus.

DeWine said he opposes Loychik’s proposal, calling it a “serious mistake.”

But DeWine refuses to reimpose a mask mandate.

The Republicans in the state Legislature took away his autonomy to make such declarations. But it didn’t remove his authority.

The Legislature would remove a mask mandate for students by DeWine, but it would show political courage on his part to require one if he strongly believes in them.

With two far-right Republicans challenging him in next year’s GOP primary for governor, he’s chosen to back down.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat running for governor, said of DeWine: “He is too weak to take action. He cares more about his primary election and political calculations than he does about Ohio kids and schools. He is willing to risk more shutdowns and more chaos and he is willing to let children get sick in order to win an election.”

–Dave Skolnick is a reporter for the Youngstown Vindicator, a sister newspaper of the Columbiana County newspapers.


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