FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Last week, Northwest Allen County School board member Steve Bartkus made comments to suggest mask choice and sexual preference were comparable.
Monday night he apologized at a district board meeting.
Bartkus made the original comment at a question-and-answer meeting the school board held last week, inviting medical professionals to talk about the importance of wearing a mask.
“People have a choice to be gay or straight, right? Some of the craziest things against God’s rules on this earth, we have a choice now. When do the parents get a choice here, and the children get a choice whether this is good for their family or their personal well-being because there’s a lot of families that are psychologically affected with this, physically affected with this. I’m not saying masks don’t work, they do for some cases.”Steve Bartkus NACS board member
“It came out of ignorance,” he said in his public apology Monday night. “I did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings. We all have different beliefs and I’m just going to leave it at that. I greatly apologize from the bottom of my heart and I hope we can keep moving forward and do what’s best for our children.”
Many upset parents and students showed up with signs and rainbow face masks in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“It was super inappropriate,” Carroll freshman Regan Konow said. “It does not represent my views as a Carroll High School student and many of my friends. I would like him to resign because I need a board member that’s going to represent my views and my opinions appropriately.”
“What does being gay even have to do with unmasking?” asked a frustrated woman, who also called for Bartkus’ resignation. “It is utterly absurd. The only conclusion is that this individual’s own personal opinions and beliefs are getting in the way of his ability to govern on the NACS board. This person apologized for offending anyone but did not apologize for his statements, which isn’t really an apology at all. What an embarrassment to the entire NACS community.”
More than 200 parents, teachers, students, and administrators attended the NACS school board meeting.
“Masks are just not as impacting as we would wish them to be,” concerned parent Marcia Teeters said. “So I think they should be a choice.”
Over 40 parents and students lined up to express their concerns to the board about both masks and Bartkus’ comments.
“The requirement to wear masks for seven hours a day is physically, cognitively, and emotionally exhausting,” one NACS student said to board in tears.
“Wearing a mask will not cause you any ill effects,” said Parkview Health Chief of Anesthesiology Ash Sud said to the board. “I’ve worn a mask for 17 years at work every day for 10 to 20 hours at a time. Over a billion people wear a mask in this world daily and they get sick less than us.”
The NACS board voted 3 to 2 to keep their COVID mitigation plan through the rest of this school year, which means masks will be required for students. Board president Kent Somers, and Bartkus voted no. That vote also gave Superintendent Dr. Chris Himsel authority concerning next school year. As of now, there is no decision on whether there will be a mask mandate for next year, but the passed resolution also gave the superintendent the authority to relax or rescind the mask mandate, but can also continue the masks mandate if he so decides. As of now there is no decided plan for the 2021-2022 school year. The NACS board said they will consider matters as they navigate through summer school.
The statewide mask mandate was lifted on April 6, but the state still mandated face coverings in K-12 schools through the end of the school year. The last day of the NACS school year is May 28.
Tuesday morning a mask picket will take place at every school in Allen County 30 minutes prior to the start of the school day.
The next school board meeting for NACS is May 10 at 6 p.m.