(Reuters) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Tuesday ordered all students in grades K-12 to wear masks at public schools that reopen, one of the few states along with New Jersey to issue such a statewide mandate for those attending in-person classes.
Previously, Ohio only required adults to wear masks, while encouraging them for students in kindergarten through high school.
As the nationwide debate over when and how schools should reopen intensifies, many states are leaving decisions up to local districts.
Several teachers’ unions in Ohio and New Jersey have either called for or expressed support for action against districts that want schools to open for in-person education. Florida’s largest teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, has already filed a suit.
Like most state governors, neither DeWine nor New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy have ordered all schools to reopen.
Exceptions to Ohio’s mask order include children with conditions that make it difficult for them to wear face-coverings, DeWine said.
DeWine acknowledged at a press conference it might be difficult to fully enforce the mask rules with young children.
“But this gives us the best that we have to have children in schools,” said DeWine, a Republican.
The state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will distribute 2 million face masks to Ohio schools for use by staff and students.
“This move gives us the best shot to keep Ohio’s kids and educators safe and physically in school,” DeWine said.
Guidance for schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls for masks to be worn by most children, but acknowledges that may be difficult.
Murphy, a Democrat, on Monday announced that almost all students will be required to wear masks while inside school buildings in New Jersey.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)