FILE - Student wearing mask

(The Center Square) – Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine will not mandate masks in the state's public schools but rather leave decisions up to local school boards. Ohio's largest teachers union wants science, rather than politics, to guide those local decisions.

In a statement Wednesday, the Ohio Education Association said it's concerned about politicians limiting the ability of local districts to make masks decisions. Recently, Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Delaware, introduced a bill prohibiting the state or any local school board from requiring masks.

"Educators want nothing more than to return to full, in-person instruction this fall," OEA President Scott Di Mauro said. "But we want to make sure that when we do, we do so safely for our kids and communities. The best way to ensure a safe return to in-person learning this fall is to follow the science and listen to the medical experts. We can't let politicians substitute their political ambitions for public safety when our kids' health and safety are at stake."

DeWine said earlier this week he believes he does not have the authority to impose another mask mandate, saying there's no appetite across the state for another round of restrictions.

The state's largest school system, the Columbus City School District, announced masks would be required for all students, faculty, staff and visitors throughout the school year. Cleveland schools are requiring masks for the first five weeks. Other districts are leaving decisions up to parents or requiring masks on buses only.

"Local decisions about mask wearing need to make based on science and not politics," DiMauro said. "These decisions should be made solely in the best interest of protecting the health of educators, students and their families."

Senate Bill 209, sponsored by Brenner, would stop the state board of education, the department of education and local school districts from requiring masks to attend or participate in in-person instruction, school-sponsored athletics, other school-sponsored extracurricular activities or being anywhere on school grounds.

Ohio lawmakers remain on break until September. Brenner's bill, which was introduced July 13, has not been assigned to a committee. If it moved quickly through the Senate and House and were signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, it likely would not become law until the end of 2021.

DeWine signed the state budget in early July. It included an amendment that does not allow public schools, colleges or universities to require vaccines for students, faculty or staff.

Regional Editor

An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.