FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — After several parents staged a protest against the mask requirement of students at Northwest Allen County Schools, Superintendent Dr. Christopher Himsel said the district would rather err “on the side of doing too much, instead of too little” to keep its students and employees as safe as possible during the pandemic.
“Every administrator throughout the nation is carrying the burden with them throughout this entire pandemic,” said Himsel. “Obviously we don’t take it lightly… Are we doing too little, or are we doing too much? If we do too little, we will have evidence that we did that. If we do too much, we may never know.”
On Monday night, about 30 NACS parents protested their kids having to wear masks while in class before the school board meeting at Perry Hill Elementary School.
At the end of the meeting, 16 parents, one middle school student and one elementary school student seized the opportunity to voice their concerns about the mask requirement in front of the board.
With the governor mandating masks for K-12 schools through June 30, it’s uncertain if the local board even has the power to overturn this requirement.
“My understanding is that state statute, federal statute, and executive order at the federal level, or an executive order from the governor’s office does take precedence over what we do at the school board level,” said Dr. Himsel.
He said after last night, the district will get an opinion from its legal counsel to ensure that understanding is accurate.
“The governor has made it very clear that masking in schools is something that needs to continue through the remainder of the school year,” said Dr. Himsel. “That comes back to making sure that we can have the most number of kids on site as we can.”
The most common concern expressed at the meeting was many parents fearing for their child’s mental health if they have to continue wearing the masks.
“I understand the argument of wearing masks to be safe, but also, what are the risks associated with that?” said NACS parent Travis Striggle before the board meeting Monday night. “Because if our kids are going to have long term health concerns from this, there’s no benefit to putting on the mask.”
Dr. Himsel said that’s something the district asked pediatricians early on in the pandemic. In response to this, the district has a student assistance program partnership with Parkview Behavior Health, as well as additional social workers and guidance counselors on staff.
“Those individuals have been checking in on kids and have been meeting with kids, that’s why it’s important to have kids in school,” said Dr. Himsel. “So that we have those available resources to help support the mental health, the emotional growth of our students.”
He said since last spring, NACS has been talking with pediatricians, infectious disease experts, the occupational health experts and the public health experts to understand what its allowed to do.
“We will continue to follow that preponderance of the evidence that those health experts give us,” said Dr. Himsel. “But at the same time make sure that we’re doing enough to keep all of our kids and our employees as healthy and safe as we can.”
WANE 15 also reached out to the governor’s office for a comment on the situation. Their response was that “the goal is to keep students learning in-person.”
The next NACS school board meeting will be held on Monday, April 12.