CDC's Latest Mask Recommendation Prompts Mixed Responses From Hoosier Schools
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week it recommends people wear masks in schools as COVID-19 cases surge. It's prompting some Hoosier schools to revise their policies, while others are waiting to make decisions based on local COVID-19 data, as many near – or have already started – a new academic year.
The latest update from the CDC said all people in schools – vaccinated or not – should wear masks.
Indiana School Boards Association legal counsel Lisa Tanselle said it's the latest example of why school policies and procedures have to remain flexible.
"COVID apparently is not going away, and so this may be something that we look at every month," Tanselle said.
But some Hoosier schools put policies in place making masks optional, based on guidance from the CDC earlier this summer and health data from their communities.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation is one of them, and starts a new school year Friday.
Superintendent Jim Roberts said the mask policy could change if local metrics get worse. The main goal this school year, Roberts said, is to keep kids in class.
"We're hoping that we're in school no matter what – that we are in-person learning five days a week, all day with all of our students," he said.
Roberts said other COVID-19 precautions the district has put in place, including social distancing in classrooms and limiting how many students gather in hallways or the cafeteria, will continue regardless of what mask policies look like.
Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and other statewide issues.
Meanwhile, others – including Indianapolis Public Schools and Monroe County Community School Corporation – already changed their mask plans to align with the federal recommendation. Some schools, like Muncie Community Schools, have delayed finalizing their operating plans to further consider the CDC guidance.
But school leaders are feeling pressure no matter what they decide.
Roberts said last school year's debates on whether or not kids should go to school in-person have evolved into debates on masking policies in schools. He said in Bartholomew County, community feedback has favored a mask-optional policy for now.
Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, Goshen Community Schools, Elkhart Community Schools and Concord Community Schools are all in similar territory as Bartholomew County – masking is currently optional for students and staff in all three school districts, except if they’re identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The governor and state health officials urge people in schools to get vaccinated and mask up, but they've also said there are no plans to require vaccines or masks statewide.