Bellbrook Board of Education considers mask mandates

by Madi Brown

Members of the community stand outside Stephen Bell Elementary School before School Board meeting on September 9. Picture by Madi Brown.

On September 9, the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District Board of Education met for a scheduled meeting to discuss the possibility of moving forward with mask mandates as a result of a rapidly growing number of students testing positive and quarantined due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A group organized by Heidi Anderson, Power to the Parents Bellbrook, protested before the Board against district-wide masking and the current K-6 mask mandate. 

The Board motioned to maintain K-6 masking and reconsider both ongoing and additional mandates a week after the September 9 meeting.

Days prior to the board meeting, parents received a survey asking if they felt students should be required to wear masks. Board members claimed that the survey data was a critical step in reevaluating mandates. The survey results have yet to be released to the public. The Board affirmed that the results of the survey would be crucial at the next meeting.

Board members listen to Sugarcreek Education Association’s Union President and high school teacher Mark Carreira’s opening speech. Picture by Madi Brown.

Among teachers and principals, members of Power to the Parents Bellbrook spoke at the meeting. One mother addressed the Board, “You are failing my child. She needs no mask on her face. She needs no mask on an instructor’s face.” 

After the meeting, Heidi Anderson said, “People think we are just antimaskers and we are not. We just want everyone to be able to make their own choices for their own children.” When asked how confident she was in the School Board making decisions with the students’ best interests in mind, she stated she had no assurance in their intentions. As a whole, Mrs. Anderson wants the community to know that, “We believe there is a risk with wearing masks and they hamper the learning experience of the student. We believe others have the right to wear them if they choose, but it must be a choice.” 

In contrast, 131 staff members from all school buildings were surveyed on September 3, 2021, 6 days before the school board meeting. The survey indicated that 61% of the participants are in favor of masking for K-12 students. According to the survey release and Mark Carreria, Union President of the Sugarcreek Education Association, “63% of the respondents indicated they had little to no confidence that the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Board of Education is acting in the best interest of students and staff regarding the pandemic. Additionally, in matters related to decisions that impact education, 58.8% of the respondents also selected that they had little to no confidence in the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Board of Education.”

Table courtesy of Sugarcreek Education Association.

Dr. Doug Cozad, when asked what message he wanted teachers and staff members to receive, said, “I know everybody’s working hard and it’s much appreciated. It’s a very challenging situation and at the end of the day they want what’s best for students and they are going to go above and beyond to help students in any way that they can. It’s much appreciated of all the work that they put in, their dedication, and their focus.” 

Dr. Cozad felt that with a combination of another week of data gathered from the grade levels that are currently under the mask mandate and the information gathered from the parent survey, the Board would be able to better evaluate the effectiveness of masks. With such information, he felt that both he and the Board would be more comfortable and informed making decisions for grades 7-12. He noted, “I want to reiterate again, that everybody on the Board and in leadership positions are doing the best they can with all of the information that they have to make what they think are the best decisions for this school district and community. People may not agree with that or may agree with some of it, but I believe that they [the school board members] have good intent and it’s just no matter what, there are always going to be people that disagree with you.”  

Update: At this time, the next scheduled school board meeting is October 14, 2021, 7pm at Bellbrook Middle School. (Previous versions of this article had Sept. 16 as the date of the next meeting.)

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