Southwest Allen County Schools is planning a year of traditional, in-person classes where masks will be optional for all students and staff.
Masks will only be required on buses per federal order.
The five-member school board unanimously endorsed these and other changes – including welcoming school visitors again – to the district's return to classroom plan Tuesday night.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's revised guidance on mask-wearing in schools wasn't mentioned. The agency said Friday vaccinated teachers and students don't need to wear masks inside school buildings.
Fort Wayne Community Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools also implemented relaxed mask guidelines this month, and the East Allen County Schools board in May formalized its desire for a mask-optional policy next academic year, if conditions are right.
SACS' only remote-learning option for 2021-22 is eSACS Virtual Secondary School, which is for grades six through 12. It must be selected during online registration, and the commitment is for at least one semester. Although eSACS launched last year, its development preceded the pandemic.
Superintendent Park Ginder described the revisions as the best way to serve the community at this time – balancing multiple constituents and issues – while continuing near-daily conversations “with those above us,” an apparent reference to health officials.
“The plan as written wasn't done in a vacuum,” Ginder said to an audience that included parents.
The revised policy also indicates vaccinated students and staff won't need to quarantine when identified as a close contact if they are symptom free. The district won't keep COVID-19 vaccination records, Ginder said.
Parents seemed eager for further changes to quarantine protocol, especially after Ginder said 1,200 Homestead High School students were quarantined last year, and by the school's count, none “were secondary transmission.” Homestead's enrollment was about 2,500 students.
One parent described that as a lot of missed education and questioned the need for quarantines.
Ginder asked for patience. The administrative team last year was “flying high” in the six weeks and two days before Homestead got its first COVID-19 case and conditions shifted, he said.
SACS' secondary schools temporarily shifted to online-only classes last fall because of staffing shortages driven by the pandemic. Homestead ended the academic year with 50 student cases, according to the state's school coronavirus dashboard.
Board President Bradley Mills expects the plan will continue to change. He said the adjustments Tuesday are a big step.
“I'm hoping we can make another big step in another month or two,” Mills said.