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Ohio County Students, Staff to Wear ‘Smile Masks’ in School

WHEELING – Students and teachers in Ohio County Schools will be able to see each other’s smiles — and how their mouths are forming words — even though they are wearing masks to start the school year.

The school district has ordered 6,000 “Smile Masks,” coming in both adult and children sizes. These are destined for use by students and staff in the school system.

The cost paid for the masks was not available on Tuesday. But on manufacturer RafiNova’s website, the price is set at $375 for a case of 50, with the cost being lower the more that are purchased.

Each has a clear plastic window in the front to show their wearer’s mouth, and can be washed and reused.

Superintendent Kim Miller donned one of the masks during Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.

A concern among educators has been that students learning to read phonetically could not see their teacher’s mouth as he or she mouthed words. The teacher, in turn, could not see if the students were making the proper lip formation.

Phonics and phonemic awareness are taught using a series of mouth positions specifying placement of lips, teeth and tongue, according to information provided by Ohio County Schools.

In addition, students with hearing issues often watch the mouths of others to know what is being said. That verbal cue is missing if the mouth is covered by a mask.

“The Smile Mask is a transparent mask that allows visual cues and facial expressions for communication to continue while wearing a face mask,” the manufacturer states.

“Exclusion from communication can reportedly have a significant impact on everyday life. It can cause feelings of loneliness, isolation and frustration.”

Students and staff are required to wear masks when at school or on the bus as the school year begins. The board this week, however, voted to allow an exemption and permit students to remove their masks when outdoors for recess.

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