The Journal Gazette
Friday, July 02, 2021 1:00 am

Mask rules left to school boards

State's mandate for students expired; all can't get shots

ASHLEY SLOBODA and NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb has no plans to renew a statewide mask rule for students – even though many can't be vaccinated.

The requirement expired Wednesday, and now the battle is up to school boards, who have found themselves caught between parents worried about young children and parents who believe COVID-19 has little impact on kids.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “If you are not fully vaccinated and aged 2 or older, you should wear a mask in indoor public places.”

Only those 12 and older can get the vaccine. That means about 1 million Hoosier children are unprotected.

“It's a local decision that needs to be made locally at their comfort level,” Holcomb said. “We appointed people to follow CDC guidance – not made it mandatory.”

He noted that the state positivity rate is down to 2.1% and hospitalization rates are manageable. Hoosiers have also had an abundance of opportunity to get vaccinated.

“There's some individual responsibility here. And I lean heavily ... on local direction, and control,” Holcomb said.

Northwest Allen County Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools this week announced relaxed mask guidelines, which will likely continue through the beginning of the academic year if COVID-19 conditions don't significantly change.

FWCS – the state's largest district, with almost 30,000 students – will encourage indoor mask use at elementary schools for all students in fifth grade and younger. It will recommend masks for unvaccinated employees and unvaccinated middle and high school students while inside any district building – a policy that relies on the honor system.

The Southwest Allen County Schools board is expected July 13 to consider a plan and recommendations for the upcoming academic year.

In May, the East Allen County Schools board formalized its desire for a mask-optional policy next academic year, if conditions are right.

On Thursday, DeKalb County Central United School District said in a letter to families it is preparing for a mask-optional return to school this fall. It further noted that DeKalb County health officials are encouraging people to consider getting the COVID-19 vaccination if they are eligible.

“Vaccinations may be a key component to having a successful in-person 2021-22,” the letter signed by Superintendent Steven Teders states.

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