SACS board votes to keep masks ‘recommended’ but no mandate

Coronavirus

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Southwest Allen County Schools’ (SACS) board voted to keep masks recommended for all students, teachers and staff. There would also be a way for students who are contact traced to not have to quarantine if masks were worn during exposure, but exactly how that would work is unclear.

Superintendent Park Ginder said Wednesday will be a busy day of figuring out what the new policy the board voted on will look like and if it’s legal. Once verbiage is drafted, the district will send communication to parents.

During the meeting, Superintendent Ginder recommended making masks required in schools to allow asymptomatic individuals to not have to quarantine if they were in close contact with a COVID positive person. This is in response to Governor Holcomb’s Executive Order last week that would allow fully masking schools to not have to quarantine as many students. Ginder’s recommendation was not voted on, because Board Member Mark Gilpin made a modified motion first.

Gilpin said he agrees with Ginder that they need to keep kids in school and have fewer out of school who are not sick but have to quarantine because they had close contact with someone who tested positive. He motioned to have students who are contract traced and wearing a mask in school to not have to quarantine. They would also not have to quarantine if they started wearing a mask once they were contact traced. This motion failed with a vote of two to three. Gilpin and Board President Brad Mills voted in favor of the motion.

Board Member Tom Rhoads then proposed a motion for a change in policy that would allow a student who was considered a close contact to not have to quarantine if the student and the person who tested positive were both wearing masks. It’s unclear how this would be tracked and enforced.

That motion passed with a four-to-one vote. Mills, Gilpin, Rhoads and Board Vice President Jennifer Bennett voted in favor of it while Board Secretary Jennifer Couch voted against.

More than a hundred people were at the meeting. While the crowd did get loud and interrupted Ginder and board members several times, they largely stayed calm.

During public comment, ten people spoke: two people were for making masks mandatory, seven people were against mandatory masks and one person said she was not for nor against, but wanted medical exemptions to be enforced if masks are required. Her son has special needs and has a medical exemption that she said was not honored.

After the meeting, Ginder spoke with WANE 15. View his entire interview below.

Currently, Fort Wayne Community Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools are the only districts in Allen County with a mask requirement for its students and staff members. East Allen County Schools voted Tuesday to keep masks optional.

According to the Indiana Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, at least one COVID-19 case has been reported at every school within the district.

Also at the meeting, the board voted to officially drop the word “senior” from Homestead Senior High School. Officials have already removed the word senior from school signs – years ago.

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