Southwest Allen County Schools will not follow a state-recommended mask mandate designed to relieve the burden of COVID-19 quarantine.
The proposed policy as drafted and explained by Superintendent Park Ginder failed to reach a vote at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
Instead, the board stayed with a masks-optional policy but adjusted quarantine rules for students who had been near another student later found to have COVID-19. If both the COVID-positive student and the exposed student had been wearing masks at the time of that exposure, the exposed student need not be quarantined. That motion passed 4-1, with Board Secretary Jennifer Couch dissenting.
The initial motion would have allowed an exposed, unmasked student to avoid quarantine by beginning to wear a mask after the exposure was documented. That motion failed 3-2.
Ginder, in addressing the media after the meeting, was asked whether he was confused by the decision. He answered that he is disappointed. He also said the the details of the policy will need to be sorted out in the days ahead. His proposal had been drafted to satisfy the latest executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb, who said last week that a blanket mask requirement would eliminate the need to keep most exposed but asymptomatic children quarantined at home pending testing. He presented charts and numbers showing that the vast majority of quarantines would be avoided in that fully masked environment. His proposal called for the mask mandate to take effect Thursday and continue through Oct. 4, in anticipation of the governor’s order expiring Sept. 30.
Ginder cited a recent example of 11 positive cases resulting in 406 students being quarantined. A mandatory mask policy would bring those students back to school, he said.
Unlike Ginder’s proposal, the successful motion did not include an effective date. Ginder told the media the immediate result is to maintain the status quo, meaning masks are recommended.
Board discussion and action followed 30 minutes of discussion from the audience. Board President Bradley Mills granted 3 minutes each to 10 of the dozens of audience members who had asked to address the board.
SACS parent and former educator Susan Ringquist spoke first, stating that the issue is not a question of being pro-mask or anti-mask, but of being pro-children. The children need to stay in school, she said, adding that Holcomb has extended a path to make that possible.
SACS resident Shane Wolff was next. “This is not about health care,” he said. “This was never about health care.” Instead, he said, the question is whether to allow the schools to be manipulated by the governor. “It’s never gonna stop unless we stand up and say no,” Wolff said.
In all, eight of the 10 speakers opposed the mask mandate or called for guaranteed waivers based on emotional well-being.
Audience sentiment clearly favored speakers opposing the mask mandate. One woman held signs reading “Freedom of Choice!!!” and “Let the Children Breath!!!”
About 170 people — including school personnel and media — had entered the SACS Transportation Center meeting room by the 7 p.m. start time. Of those, about 25 wore masks.
Ginder said his proposal to require masks, as outlined by the State Department of Health, was designed to avoid quarantines.
“That recommendation was altered and changed and we will not be coming back to school with masks,” Ginder said. “What happens pursuant to that will take a little bit of legwork tomorrow and the next few days.”