Editor, The Messenger,

Quietly working its way through state legislation is House Bill 400 which intends to “Prohibit public schools from requiring students to wear a mask”. Our own Rep. Jay Edwards is a co-sponsor on this bill — a bill that blatantly ignores the guidance and recommendations of our medical and disease professionals and is in direct contrast to best practices for our students to continue learning as safely as possible.

This bill is proposed as many of our local schools are seeing COVID outbreaks. Students are being forced to quarantine. Schools are closing. They are experiencing staff shortages. In our region, ICU hospitalization rate is higher than last year’s peak. Currently Ohio is 4th (worst, not best) in COVID case acceleration in the United States.

This is not the time to draw a partisan line on the issue of mask wearing. We’ve had nearly 20 months to better understand how COVID spreads. We know people are at greater risk when gathering in large crowds indoors and in close proximity. We also know that the current variant is extremely transmissible and communities are susceptible to hyperlocal outbreaks.

We know that vaccination is a safe and effective measure to combat COVID but that our children under 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated. In order to protect them and others we must rely on various tools to reduce transmission. One scientifically proven measure to do so is through mask wearing.

Most schools in our region that did not require mask wearing are quickly reversing that policy decision for one simple reason; it is imperative that we keep our children in schools. Every school in Athens County will soon have mask requirements.

Instead of our students being given the support they need to stay in school, too many in our state government seem intent on ignoring our health professionals. The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, made up of our six Ohio children’s hospitals, recently wrote a letter urging measures to mitigate the spread of COVID. This letter noted “more kids are in the ICU than ever before”. They ask Ohioans to “help protect our state’s children by using the tools that we have,” which includes mask wearing “particularly during school”.

Please join me in contacting your representatives about this incredibly short sighted bill which seeks to flaunt known best practices to mitigate COVID and further erodes local control of our schools.

Sean Parsons

Athens City School Board member

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