Fredericktown Mask Protest

People gather in protest of Fredericktown schools' indoor mask mandate in front of the administrative building on Sept. 14. 

FREDERICKTOWN -- Fredericktown superintendent Susan Hayward, with the assistance of district principals, offered a presentation on the district’s school mask policy at Tuesday's board meeting before approximately 50 people.

Meeting attendees included parents and relatives of students from various districts in Knox County spoke out in opposition to student mask mandates.

Fredericktown Locals Schools began mandating masks indoors for students on Sept. 1, after mandating masks for staff on Aug. 30 following a risk of a substitute teacher shortage.

There are five active COVID-19 cases (all among students) and 23 students in quarantine at Fredericktown schools, as of Sept. 14. When Fredericktown implemented a mask mandate for all, the district had 15 student and staff cases and 85 students quarantined, with a peak of 111 in quarantine a few days earlier. 

Thomas Groshan, parent of Fredericktown students, said during the meeting Tuesday he thinks mask mandates are a political game.

“So let me break this down into terms that even bureaucrats can understand,” Groshan said, addressing the board. “It is wrong to mandate masks for children. You as a government body do not know better how to take care of my kid.”

Groshan said every person on the board should resign. 

“I know many of the people on the board are long-time residents of the area, and a lot of you have dreams of retiring here,” Groshan said. “So imagine how well that’s going to go when your own community considers you social pariahs who attack parental relationships.”

Heather Brake, a 5th grade teacher at Fredericktown and a parent, said she sees students wear masks improperly during the school day. 

“I hear sighs of relief when I say ‘mask break,’” Brake said.

Brake also took issue with repercussions for students who do not follow the mask mandate. 

“I have heard myself say ‘I will have to give you a Friday school or write you up if you do not properly wear your mask’ and I have questioned if it is the right thing to do,” Brake said, and some attendees yelled in response “It’s not!”

Several parents and students protested the mask mandate outside the Fredericktown school building ahead of the 6 p.m. board meeting.

Hallie Larner, a parent of Fredericktown students who has organized a group of parents opposed to the mandate, said before the meeting she believed parents should have the choice of whether their student wears a mask in school.

“I am here personally to represent parental rights and to stand up for constitutional freedoms,” Larner said. “Be it that there is no current law or mandate, I think it should be up to the parents’ choice to determine what’s best for their children.”

Several people who are not parents of Fredericktown students and do not live in the Village of Fredericktown attended the board meeting as well, including a number who also spoke at Centerburg’s school board meeting Monday. Centerburg’s school board reversed its mask mandate after 90 minutes of public discussion.

Some attendees of the Fredericktown meeting Tuesday took issue with the mask policy changing during a special meeting on Aug. 31, when the board also voted against a downtown redevelopment proposal.

One community member participated during the special meeting in August, Danielle Vail. Vail spoke against the implementation of a mask mandate for students then and reaffirmed her belief Tuesday, adding requests for more transparency and communication when policies are changed as well as a threshold for when a mask mandate will be implemented/removed.

As Hayward went through her presentation on the district's mask policy and other COVID-19 policies, attendees interjected with questions and comments such as "all I hear is fear, fear, fear."

Uniformed police officers were present at the meeting, and board president Todd McClay said a few times if disruptions continued attendees may be escorted out of the building. No one ended up being removed.

Hayward also shared insight from a virtual meeting with superintendents and directors of Ohio children's hospitals earlier Tuesday, when Ohio children's hospital leaders asked all school districts to mandate masks in schools.

"What they were asking was for us to help slow down the curve," Hayward said.

Also earlier Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made a plea for school districts to mandate masks.

However, DeWine reaffirmed he would not mandate masks as he did last school year, citing Senate Bill 22, which allows lawmakers to rescind Ohio Department of Health orders, such as mask mandates.

COVID-19 cases among Knox County residents under the age of 18 in August hit the largest monthly total for that age group since the pandemic began.

In other business, the board approved:

-- Several donations including school supplies from Waterford United Methodist Church (value of $500), $100 to the class of 2021 Memorial Garden from Salem United Methodist Church, $250 from Knox County Cattlemen’s Association for the Welcome back Luncheon, sweet corn donation to the Elementary Welcome Back Luncheon (value of $90), 150 gift cards from East End Nutrition (value of $1,200), crown for homecoming from Griffon Jewelers (value of $70). The board also accepted new staff orientation handouts from Kokosing Construction, Dee Jays, Fredericktown Chevrolet, Fredericktown PTO and TJB Inspired Photography.

-- A records for destruction schedule and items to be destructed: including accounts payable and receivable ledgers, purchase orders, travel expense reports, accounting data, federal, Ohio, state and school income tax reports, among other treasurer’s records.

-- A construction project in the Theater Annex room at the administration building.

-- A contract with Central Ohio Behavior Consulting for Board Certified Behavior Analyst services.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.