The Ohio Department of Health just revised its COVID Guidance for the 2021-22 School Year. Here are some of the big-ticket items stemming from this 13-page document:
- Vaccinations for staff and students are “strongly recommended” and should be encouraged
- Masks (indoors) for unvaccinated staff and students are “strongly recommended”
- Masks on buses are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status (this per CDC)
- Continued social distancing (3 feet is ok now), hand washing, sanitizing and increased ventilation is still recommended
- Limiting non-essential visitors is recommended
As you can see, the ODH isn’t mandating anything, it’s just making strong recommendations. This means that, as we have seen in the past, districts may have varying policies. I received quite a few inquiries from families who were concerned about their children with disabilities who could not wear a mask. Would they get kicked out of school? Once again, ODH is telling schools they should make exceptions to any mask mandates for people who “cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of a developmental delay or disability” and that schools should, “discuss the possibility of reasonable accommodation,” with those students or staff.
ODH specifically reminds schools that wearing a mask, “can be difficult for people with certain disabilities…or for those with sensory or cognitive issues.” They suggest, for those individuals who can only wear a mask for short periods of time due to their disability, that schools should prioritize the mask wearing to those times when social distancing is most difficult, i.e., during drop-off and pickup. Students with IEPs do not get automatic exemption from a mask-mandate. If your child can’t wear a mask because of his/her specific disability-related limitations or needs, you need to start the conversation with your district right away. Call an IEP team meeting to discuss the problem and brainstorm alternatives that will give your child access to their education while minimizing exposure risk for all concerned.
The CDC also recently updated its federal recommendations, due mostly to the Delta variant. The CDC now recommends that even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask when they are in public and indoors in a county that has, “substantial or high transmission.” This COVID tracker allows you to check your county’s data. As with all things COVID, stay tuned…