FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — In an email exchange with a parent, Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) board president, Bradley Mills, claimed that wearing masks “do very little” to stop the COVID-19 virus, and also play a role in “causing the rapid rise in suicides and mental health issues in children.”
“I was really disheartened to read Mr. Mills’ comments,” said Rachel Drummond, the parent involved in email exchange. “You know, as a constituent, I always held out hope that our school board and our leaders would want the best for our children.”
Drummond is a mother of four. Three of her children attend Lafayette Meadows Elementary.
Her youngest daughter has juvenile arthritis, making her immunocompromised. That’s why Drummond said she’s been emailing the school board weekly to try “to make schools safe,” as her family, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), believe that in-person school is the best option for kids’ social and emotional health.
With her youngest daughter’s condition, Drummond said her family needs to be cautious about what germs they bring into the home.
Typically, Drummond says she just gets a one-sentence answer, if any answer at all from board members. However, the reply she received on Aug. 24, was a different story.
In the email, Mills wrote, “Ms. Drummond. I appreciate your opinion. The research I have done leads me to believe that masks do very little (less than 10%) to stop the virus in a classroom environment. I believe the emotional and psychological problems from masks and the non-normality of things is causing the rapid rise in suicides and mental health issues in children.”
Drummond said she asked Mills what his public health credentials were and to see where his research came from but she received no reply.
WANE 15 talked with Mills on the phone Friday. He said he stood by his email “for the most part in principle,” but may reword a few sentences if he could write it again.
While Mills acknowledged he is not a medical expert, but said he’s “educated” and has done “a lot of research.” One of the sites he uses is News Medical Life Sciences.
During the phone conversation, Mills used the analogy that “masks are like a mosquito flying through a chain link fence.”
In regards to his mention of increased suicide rates in his email, Mills said he did not want to comment any further. When asked if he’s aware of any SACS students who have died by suicide because of mask mandates and from the non-normality of things, he said “no comment.”
According to the Allen County Coroner’s Office, in 2018 the county saw 47 total suicides, two of them being committed by a minor. In 2019, there were 43 total, one of them being committed by a minor. In 2020, there were 45 total suicides, four committed by a minor and in 2021 there were 49 total suicides with eight being committed by a minor.
While there was an increase in the amount of children under 18 who died by suicide, the coroner’s office said “what part or effect the pandemic and mask wearing plays is unknown.”
“Usually, especially in younger persons, the suicidal event follows, an argument or punishment, or a break up,” said Michael Burris, the coroner’s office chief investigator. “Rarely does a younger person leave a note, and if there is one there is not much useful information provided into the thought process.”
In the exchange, Mills also claimed that an appointment for a child to see a psychologist would take an “unprecedented 3.5 months to be seen.” However, WANE 15 reached out to the Parkview Behavioral Health Center who said the next available appointment is Oct. 5, just over a month and a half away.
The health center also said it offers a walk-in Crisis Center, which is open 24/7.
In reference to Dr. Sutter’s recommendation that Allen County Schools mask up, Mills noted that Dr. Sutter is making decisions for the entire county. Mills said the SACS zip code has a high vaccination rate.
However, children under age 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated.
Drummond said her family will use the weekend to decide whether to send her kids to school in person or to keep them at home. Regardless, her message to the school board is the same.
“The two best ways that we know of to keep our kids safe are vaccinations and universal masking and at the elementary level by definition, vaccinations are not an option,” said Drummond. “The next best thing is to surround them with a fully masked population, so that they can receive a safe education for themselves to socially and emotionally risk get back to the normality, as Mr. Mills refers to it.”
WANE 15 also reached out to the SACS district who said it “feel[s] it would be inappropriate to comment on personal communication from Brad Mills to a SACS parent.”
However, former Superintendent Dr. Phil Downs tweeted the following response to WANE 15: