#schoolsafety | EACS set for masks optional next year | Schools

The East Allen County Schools board formalized Tuesday its desire for a mask-optional policy next academic year, should conditions be right.

The resolution, which passed 6-1, also recognizes the possibility of a mask mandate ordered by the governor or health officials. In that instance, EACS will require universal and correct wearing of masks in accordance with the most current Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as well as guidance from the Allen County and Indiana departments of health, said Superintendent Marilyn Hissong, who read the resolution in its entirety.

The district will continue to seek guidance from local, state and federal health agencies about school safety protocols, and it will modify plans in accordance with their advice, Hissong added.

The vote followed a public comment period during which six people spoke, mostly in favor of mask choice. Eight people also advocated for a mask-optional policy at a previous meeting, which also attracted speakers supporting masks.

Board member Paulette Nellems opposed the measure, which included language not provided in the board packet posted online Monday.

Nellems said she represents an area mostly populated by people of color.

“If you look at data, and if you follow the science, this virus is disproportionately affecting the community that I was elected to serve,” said Nellems, who is Black.

Mask-wearing decreases infections, she said.

“We need to pay attention to science, and not just science,” Nellems said. “Pay attention to numbers. Numbers don’t lie.”

It is a tough decision, member Jenny Blackburn said. She said her four children are evenly split on the issue.

Blackburn sounded as though she was fighting tears when she said she didn’t want the board’s decision to discount anyone who has died from COVID-19.

“I feel like we’re looking over that,” Blackburn said, “and that makes it hard for me.”

Board member Ron Turpin liked that the resolution gives the district “flexibility to fit the needs of the most people.”

He reiterated that plans can be modified anytime.

“I think it is extremely important for us to have that hope that we can give people, that mask-optional is what we’re striving for,” Turpin said.

Plans for the 2021-22 academic year were expected to be posted on the district’s website today.


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