The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 21, 2021 1:00 am

EACS adopts mask-optional policy

Board votes 6-1 on protocols for upcoming school year

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Minutes before the East Allen County Schools board approved a mask-optional academic year, member Jenny Blackburn urged respect.

She worries about her son being picked on for choosing to wear a mask, she said.

“Even wearing this right now, I feel kind of like an outcast,” said Blackburn, one of a few masked people in the crowded, socially distanced board room in New Haven. “That's just what I want to make sure everybody knows. You need to teach your kids to respect others.”

The plan – which addresses cleaning practices, visitors, quarantines and other protocols – passed in a 6-1 vote.

Member Paulette Nellems, who also wore a mask for personal reasons, described COVID-19 as a horrible, ugly disease that has affected her family and is nothing like the flu.

She is concerned Allen County is returning today to the yellow category in Indiana's color-coded map gauging the spread of the coronavirus. Dr. Matthew Sutter, the county health commissioner, announced the move from blue to yellow, the second-lowest level, during a meeting Monday.

“I believe we need to start kids with masks and go from that premise because the data is changing,” Nellems said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 9 released revised guidance on mask-wearing in schools. The agency said vaccinated teachers and students don't need to wear masks inside school buildings. Only those 12 and older can get the vaccine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to recommend all staff and students wear masks unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit their use, according to an update this week.

Other board members defended the plan, which is similar to those at other Allen County districts.

Member Ron Turpin said it satisfies his non-negotiables: mask choice, no vaccine requirements for students or staff and allowing parents back in schools.

As the oldest board member, Gayle Etzler said she remembers the polio scare, which affected children more than COVID.

“That was totally different than this,” Etzler said, adding constituents seemed to favor relaxed mask guidelines.

Superintendent Marilyn Hissong stressed the plan is fluid. She and board members also assured the in-person and virtual audience that they read every email and listened to every call.

“This was supposed to be a two-week deal,” said Tim Hines, board vice president. “This is probably never going to go away. It will be treated like the flu, but because of our social responsibility as a group, we've gotten to today. And we continue to be responsible and continue to be vigilant about our surroundings. We will get through this.”

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