Oxford School District approves Return to School plan; masks optional for students, staff

Published 11:49 am Tuesday, July 27, 2021

With school beginning next week, the Oxford School District has adopted a Return to School plan on how to deal with COVID-19.

The OSD’s Board of Trustees voted Monday to approve the plan, which makes masks optional for students and staff who are not fully-vaccinated from COVID-19.

The 4-1 vote came after some discussion and differing viewpoints presented from parents leading up to Monday’s meeting. Tara Denevan, a parent within the school district, spoke on behalf of a group who was in favor of giving the students and parents the choice of wearing a mask or not.

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“I come to you to today representing a large group of stakeholders within the Oxford School District to ask that you give us a choice,” Denevan said. “The choice as parents to do what we know is best by making masks optional at school for this upcoming school year. …I cannot imagine trying to monitor the wearing of masks along with other duties we’re expecting (teachers to do)  to truly protect my child from harm. It’s ineffective and inconsistent.”

Over the past two weeks since the school board held a first reading of the plan, and two petitions were created by parents with one in favor of masks being mandatory for students under the age of 12 and another backing the proposed plan of recommending but not requiring masks.

One petition received over 700 signatures and the other over 300 signatures ahead of Monday’s meeting. Superintendent Bradley Roberson appreciated all of the input and feedback received from parents regarding the plan, but also reminded those in attendance and those watching a live stream of how to handle the board’s vote, no matter what side their views fell on.

“I’ve been discouraged by the spirit of some of the comments of individuals on both sides of the argument,” Roberson said. “It quickly took on a political persona that seemed to be driving society today — that is there always has to be a winner and a loser. The decision tonight, or any decision that this board makes, doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be a zero sum. We cannot afford to make decisions regarding children’s education that take from one group to meet the needs of the others. The stakes are just too high.”

Board member Ray Hill was the lone dissenting vote regarding the plan. Hill spoke before the board’s vote, acknowledging the district’s plan was going against guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical leaders which recommend masks be mandatory for those not fully-vaccinated.

“There is no wiggle room that I can see. There is no ambiguity whatsoever,” Hill said. “I think we need to be clear that the COVID policy you’re being asked to vote on tonight does not follow the recommendations of the experts. For that reason, I cannot support it. In my opinion, not following the recommendations of these experts is not only misguided in the short term, but the failure to follow the advice of these experts will hurt our ability to effectively deal with the COVID pandemic in the future. Because once you choose public opinion over the advice of public health experts, there really is no going back, at least not in any credible sense.”

The full Return to School plan can be viewed at the OSD’s official website.