FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – After a stormy few weeks, and still with a month left of school, Northwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Himsel said the district is preparing for “as normal of a start as it can” for the 2021-2022 school year.
As parents and students push for an end to the district’s mask mandate, many wonder what “normal” will mean for the mask-wearing requirement. Himsel said it depends on the advice from health officials.
“All of us will be excited for the day when we no longer have to wear masks,” said Dr. Chris Himsel, NACS superintendent. “But at the same time we’re going to continue to keep our vulnerable students, and our vulnerable employees, as safe as we can. As soon as the Indiana Department or the Allen County Department of Health says that it these protocols are no longer needed, we have the authorization of relaxing or rescinding them.”
This authorization was one of the resolutions passed at Monday night’s school board meeting. The board also approved that, if necessary, the district can continue using the plans already implemented instead of creating new plans for the 2021 school year.
The health department lifting the current protocols depends on a variety of factors.
“It’s going to be based on where we’re at with vaccinations of people in our community, where we’re at with vaccinations availability for children, where we’re at with the positivity rate and where we’re at with the rate of spread in the virus and the number of cases among some other data that they’ve been monitoring,” said Dr. Himsel.
He said these are factors the district will continue to monitor for the next four months.
“There’s a lot of time and work to be done between now and then, we’re hopeful that our community continues to do their part on mitigating COVID so that we can get to the end faster,” said Dr. Himsel.
NACS has had a tumultuous few weeks after a small group of parents petitioned the district to drop the mask mandate, despite it being a statewide K-12 requirement. The debate came to a head Monday night at the school board’s regular meeting, when dozens of parents and students weighed in.
Tuesday morning then, a small group of parents and students picketed outside district schools.
According to Himsel, it’s been close to 40 years since NACS has experienced an issue that has created such a “variety of opinions.” He said he’s unsure if this debate will have any impact school enrollment next year.
“We continue to monitor the new subdivisions and what’s going on in our community, and there’s not going to be any change in terms of us preparing for a new school year,” said Dr. Himsel.
In regards to the uproar at the previous night’s board meeting, Tuesday morning’s picketing and if upset parents have any plans for the future, Dr. Himself said NACS is going to “continue to do our business.”
“We’re going to continue to offer learning opportunities on site,” said Dr. Himsel. “We’re going to continue to have people who show up periodically and protest a wide variety of things. It’s not anything new for schools. Everyone has a right to to voice their their concerns.”
He said throughout the entire school year, the district’s mission has stayed constant.
“Our mission is to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for each and every child, so that we can support them, engage them and challenge them, and we are undeterred, we’re going to continue to accomplish that mission,” said Dr. Himsel.
The next school board meeting for NACS is Monday, May 10. The last day of school for students is May 28.