School board meetings are getting more contentious in Ohio, and a group of moms wants the governor to put a stop to the local shouting matches by issuing a statewide mask mandate.
"People in my situation, where the school district will not act, we are depending on the governor to do something, anything," said Veronica Stevel, a mother of five from Lebanon. "Somebody at some point has got to step up."
The moms, who all support Democrat Nan Whaley for governor, said the science is clear to them. Masks keep help keep kids in the classroom by preventing the spread of COVID-19. And Gov. Mike DeWine's own health department agrees.
Both DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff strongly recommended that all students and staff wear masks back in August. But they stopped short of a mandate.
DeWine has said it's a local decision. His opponents say it's a lack of leadership that's turned local school board meetings into shouting matches and even made some of them afraid to send their kids to school.
"This is not the Mike DeWine who stood with Dr. Amy Acton," Tiffany Snyder, of Lexington, said on a Monday call organized by Whaley's campaign. "I think we all long for that kind of leadership. I think that’s what’s upsetting for us."
DeWine made national headlines back in the spring of 2020 when he shuttered Ohio's schools, canceled a primary election and ordered businesses to close their doors.
But in the year and half since the pandemic started, DeWine has shifted toward of model of personal responsibility. He recently criticized President Joe Biden's vaccine and testingmandate for businesses with more than 100 employees, calling it a "mistake" that "clouds the issue."
"Mike DeWine's record makes it clear that he is the most pro-child governor Ohio has ever had," campaign spokesman Brenton Temple said. "His goal is to keep kids in school, and he has led in making sure that parents and school districts have the tools to accomplish that."
DeWine has described his own actions as "surgical" and "precise." He's pushing science instead of requirements. But event organizer Katie Paris, who runs a Democratic group called Red, Wine and Blue had a different word for the governor's policies: political.
"I think he wants another four years a little too badly," Paris said. "It is not worth this."
DeWine is caught in the middle between 2022 Democratic challengers like Whaley who support statewide mask mandates and a primary opponent, former congressman Jim Renacci, who opposes them.
Renacci's view on mask mandates has the support of a number of Republicans in Ohio's legislature. Sen. Andrew Brenner, for example, has already introduced a bill that would ban local school boards from mandating masks.
And it's likely that any statewide mask mandate would be quickly overturned. State lawmakers gave themselves the power to invalidate DeWine's health orders back in March.
Whaley told reporters she knows that a possibility, but she wants DeWine to mandate masks anyway.
He should challenge the constitutionality of Senate Bill 22 in court, Whaley said. "If protecting our kids is not a priority, I don't know what is."
Anna Staver is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.