AYERSVILLE — A group of parents and students from Ayersville gathered in front of Ayersville Local Schools Thursday and Friday mornings in protest of a mask mandate at the school that began Thursday.
In a letter sent to families from Superintendent Beth Hench on Sept. 8, in which she referenced the 2021-22 District Restart Plan, Hench explained that at as of Sept. 8, the district had five COVID positive student cases, one positive staff case, and 75 active quarantines.
After consultation with local and state health officials, the letter went on to state that as of Sept. 9, Ayersville Local Schools would require masks for all prekindergarten-12 students, and all staff during school, as well as all indoor events on campus, including athletic competitions.
“While not all quarantines can be avoided, universal masking will prevent most quarantine situations when exposure to a COVID case happens in a classroom setting,” said Hench in the letter. “Masking will help allow our students and staff to stay in school and participate in extra-curricular activities as long as they exhibit no symptoms.”
The letter explained the district will monitor daily data, and will revisit the mask requirement the week of Sept. 20.
On Thursday, a group of approximately 10 parents, as well as a group of about 20 students, protested the mask mandate in the parking lot near the Watson Road entrance of the school.
Leading the protest were Erica McGuire, a candidate for a seat on the Ayersville Local Board of Education, and Emily Rankin, a substitute teacher.
“The kids came home with a letter from school on Wednesday, a notification was sent out to parents and the information was put on the website,” said McGuire. “There was little to no notice ahead of time. Before school even started this year, Emily and I talked about this, we’re against wearing masks, so when the letter came home, we got together to protect the kids.”
Said Rankin: “We immediately reached out to like-minded people in the community, who are against our freedoms being stripped away, and who do not agree with this being forced upon our students. From there, we gathered as many people as we could to go out and protest.”
According to McGuire and Rankin, some students entered the school on Thursday without a mask and were told to put on a mask to go to the office. One of those students was McGuire’s son.
“When my son was asked to put a mask on, he said, ‘No, I have a medical condition,’ so he was told his options were to put on a mask, or go home unexcused with zeroes (his grades) for the day,” said McGuire.
When reached for comment Friday, Hench explained students who went home because they refused to wear a mask had access to class work.
“If students chose not to wear a mask, they were not able to enter the building, but they could go home and access all of their assignments on Google Classroom, just as if they were home for a sick day,” said Hench. “So yes, students did have access to assignments.”
McGuire and Rankin explained Hench spoke to the group on Thursday and answered questions, and according to the pair, Hench told the group that a student will only be exempt from wearing a mask if that student has a note from a medical doctor. In addition, Defiance County Sheriff Doug Engel and 911 Director Matt Hanenkrath, also spoke to the group.
When asked about the quarantine numbers, Hench said: “We just finished our ninth day of school (Friday), and as of 3:30 this afternoon, we have nine positive cases and 98 people in quarantine due to COVID-19. Last Friday at the start of the day we were at zero cases, and by the time we put the mask mandate in place, we were up to 75 people in quarantine.
“Our numbers are moving so quickly, we wanted to get ahead of the game so we put the mask mandate in place,” added Hench. “If we had put the mask mandate in place the day we made the decision to do so (Sept. 8), our students in quarantine would have dropped from 75 to 19 kids.”
Hench explained anyone who is within three feet of another person with COVID for an extended period of time, mask or not, a quarantine will be required. If people are 3-6 feet apart, and masked, however, quarantine is not required unless a person is exhibiting symptoms.
She went on to explain that students are spread out between 3-6 feet in the classroom at the school.
“Our goal is keep 100% of students and staff in school and healthy,” said Hench. “By putting the mandate in place, we can not only help stop the spread of the virus, but keep kids in school.
“We appreciate the support we have received following the mandate, and we thank the sheriff’s office for having a presence here as well,” added Hench.
Meanwhile, the group returned to protest Friday, and plans to do so moving forward. A group of parents are also expected to attend the Ayersville Local Board of Education meeting Sept. 20. to discuss the issue.
“Our hope is as more people in the community see us standing up, they will have the strength to stand up with us,” said Rankin.
Said McGuire: “We just want to have a choice, and education shouldn’t be put on the back-burner just because my kid doesn’t want to wear a mask. I don’t agree with the mandate, everyone should have a choice, and I feel the school needs to be more transparent. Give us a number when they have to go on, or a number when they can come off ... there was no, ‘Hey kids and parents, we’re getting a lot of quarantines, we have to do something.’ They just did it.”