ELKHART — With the start of school just days away, local school districts plan to stick with their mask-optional policy despite new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recently issued new guidance recommending that all teachers, staff, students and visitors wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, in communities where case numbers and testing show a substantial risk of community spread of COVID-19.
Elkhart County entered that level of risk a week ago, according to the CDC.
The state lifted its mandate on masks on July 1, leaving the decision to school districts to formulate their own policies on masks. State officials last week announced that the statewide mandate on masks will not resume despite recommendations from the health agency.
School districts in Elkhart County are planning to resume all in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year and will remain mask-optional for all grade levels, except when an individual is identified as a close contact to an individual with COVID-19, in which case masks and additional precautions will be required.
Masks will be required on school buses per federal orders.
Elkhart County Health Officer Bethany Wait in previous reports advised concerned parents to send their children to school with masks.
South Bend schools this week announced they would require masks. Other organizations in the area also are asking visitors to wear masks, including Beacon Health at its fitness centers.
Elkhart Community Schools set its mask-optional policy in June. Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said the district is monitoring conditions and working in conjunction with local health officials.
“We would alter our plan as necessary based on local recommendations and/or state mandates,” he said.
At Concord Community Schools, Superintendent Dan Funston said last year was a difficult year for students and it is the district’s goal to return to and continue to stay mask-optional.
“We think it is extremely important for our schools to return to times when kids were socializing and can see the faces of people they were talking to,” he said.
Funston said the district will be monitoring data at all grade levels to ensure the safety of students. The district will also continue mitigation efforts including the regular cleaning and sanitizing of high-traffic areas and encouraging students and staff to practice good hand hygiene, he said.
“For families who are concerned about the safety of students who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, we would encourage the wearing of masks,” he said.|
Baugo Community Schools Superintendent Byron Sanders said the district is watching the positivity rates in Elkhart County and is willing to adjust policy as needed.
“A significant increase in positivity, the spread of the virus on campus, or a directive from the state or federal government will influence our decisions,” he said.
Baugo was the only district in the county that was able to offer 151 of 180 days of in-person learning last school year. Sanders said the district will exercise many of the same mitigation strategies this school year.
“We are always concerned about the health and safety of our staff and students,” he said. “We will make decisions that are data-driven, especially when such decisions require a mandate.”
Goshen Community Schools will continue with a five-course action plan to the pandemic beginning with the least disruptive plan at Course I to the most disruptive at Course V.
Superintendent Steve Hope said the district’s pandemic plan allows the district to change its mitigation efforts.
“We will be watching the conditions carefully and consulting with the Elkhart County Health Department,” he said.