The superintendent of Wauseon schools went on the offensive at Monday’s Board of Education meeting after two parents in attendance questioned the rules for students wearing masks in physical education classes.
The parents’ questions followed an incident Sept. 10 in which a Wauseon Elementary School fifth grade student with a congenital disorder suffered a brain bleed after running on an outdoor track as exercise for gym class. The student is recovering in an area hospital.
Amid a flurry of social media rumors about the incident is one that the student was made to wear a mask while running, which resulted in lowered oxygen intake that caused the student to become disoriented, fall, and hit their head.
Parent Tiffany O’Neill asked Superintendent Troy Armstrong at Monday’s meeting, held in the middle school cafetorium to allow for social distancing, whether her child must wear a mask in gym class. O’Neill said she’s heard from conflicting sources, and told the school board that Armstrong said students wearing a mask was the parents’ choice. She complained that middle school principal Joe Friess told her that her daughter must wear a mask in gym class or fail the course.
Armstrong confirmed that Friess was correct, and that students must wear masks in gym class since it can also be an educational class. He added, “If there’s a strenuous activity and they’re six feet apart, they’re not wearing masks. Other than that, they’re wearing masks in gym class.”
He emphasized that the statement he made noted some students choose to wear a mask at all times during school hours, while others take advantage of established mask breaks during the school day.
“That’s guided by a parent or guardian,” he said. “Nowhere in my statement did I ever say that a student is not required to wear a mask, because the mask order issued by the director of the Ohio Department of Health says that students in K-12 will wear a mask.”
Armstrong said that statement is on the school district’s website and makes the rules clear.
But O’Neill pushed back, saying her daughter told her she wears a mask while doing sit-up, push-up, and jumping jack exercises in gym class while six feet apart from other students. Armstrong reiterated that masks are not worn when students are exercising and spaced apart.
“It’s also what’s happening in six other Fulton County (school districts) when it comes to physical education class,” he said.
O’Neill said parents of Archbold students she’s spoken with “have never had their children saying that they’re wearing masks in gym class, so are all of the Wauseon students lying to their parents?” She also questioned why players in a volleyball game held in the nearby middle school gym concurrently with the school board meeting were not wearing masks and not distanced by six feet.
The superintendent told her state mask orders for athletics are different than K-12 orders for school days. “There’s no easy way to say, ‘Every time this happens (or) every time this happens.’ We have sporting rules…so we’re doing our best to compare that in gym class,” he said.
Another parent in attendance, Bridget Wilson, said she received confirmation from both a school nurse and a teacher that the injured fifth grade student was wearing a mask while running the track. Armstrong told her he watched the middle school’s outdoor surveillance videos and the student was not wearing a mask.
“The student never fell. The student was never in a mask while running on the track,” he said. “When students are in heavy, strenuous physical activity…and can be six feet apart – that is when they’re letting them take their masks off. Other than that, they wear their masks, just like they do in every other part of the building. And PE is a classroom.”
He continued, “All the teachers and all the students do an excellent job of coming to the school wearing their masks when they’re supposed to.” He later said that student safety is the school district’s first and foremost priority.
Elementary school Principal Theresa Vietmeier said at the meeting that students have been told they should wear a mask on the outside track if walking side by side with another student. If they’re running and six feet apart from other students, a mask is not necessary.
“Most of the kids – the vast majority – do that, some do not,” Vietmeier said. “And some of that is by parent guidance…But I understand it’s a super hot-button issue, and we all have definite thoughts on it…but there’s also some misinformation out there and it is clouding the waters, too.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.