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Government & Politics

Key Lawmaker Says a Mask Mandate for All Ohio Schools Wouldn't Stand

Kids wear in masks in Worthington Kilbourne High School
Dan Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Kids were in masks in Worthington Kilbourne High School when the district reopened for in-person learning in March. All K-12 students and staff in the district are required to wear masks after a mandate went into effect Aug. 25, a week after school started for the year.

Children’s hospitals say they’re worried about rising cases of COVID in kids, with nearly half of all Ohio students not required to wear masks in schools. But that’s unlikely to change unless local officials make decisions to do that.

There won’t be a statewide mask mandate for Ohio schools, according to Gov. Mike DeWine. And he says that’s not because he doesn’t want one, but because he says if he issues one, Republican legislators who have supermajorities in the House and Senate will invoke a new law giving them the power to overturn his health orders.

“They’ve made it very clear that if we put a mask order on, they’re going to come out and take that off," DeWine said. "If I thought otherwise, I would certainly have taken action myself.”

The law that allows the General Assembly to rescind a governor’s health order was vetoed by DeWine after it passed in March and that veto was promptly rejected. Only Republicans voted for the veto override, with one House Republican and two Republican Senators voted against the override.

The law, Senate Bill 22, is similar to a bill passed in the last General Assembly in December. DeWine vetoed that, but the legislature didn't attempt a veto override before the session ended at the close of 2020.

Things are different now.

In March, COVID cases spiked up but then started to trend downward as more people became eligible for vaccines. For the month of March, the daily confirmed case average was around 1,050, while the daily confirmed case average for the past month is more than three times that. And a quarter of the new COVID cases in Ohio in the last few weeks have been in kids younger than 18 years old.

But Senate President Matt Huffman said his fellow Republican has read the room correctly.

“I don't think there is any push or anyone in favor, at least in the Senate Republican caucus—I shouldn't say anyone. I haven’t asked everybody—but there's very little likelihood that the Senate Republican caucus is going to support a mask mandate for public schools," Huffman said.

He said schools are free to impose mandates. And a third of all districts have, including the state’s largest districts, so 54% of Ohio public school students are required to be masked in class.

chart showing how many school districts and students are under mask mandates in Ohio
Office of Gov. Mike DeWine
A slide from Gov. Mike DeWine's press conference Sept. 14 shows how many school districts and students are under mask mandates in Ohio.

And though medical experts worried about COVID spread in kids are pushing for masks in schools, Huffman said if superintendents don’t want to require masks, it’s not up to the legislature to change that.

DeWine said he’s told districts that they can institute temporary mask mandates to be removed when the surge of COVID cases in children subsides.

While some, including Dayton mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Nan Whaley, have called for DeWine to issue a mask mandate and then go to court over it, DeWine has said that might confuse people.
Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.