School districts sticking with mask-optional policies

Students at Cleveland Elementary School get off the bus sporting face masks as they head back to school for the first day of class in this 2020 file photo.

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.

Masks optional

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.

(17) comments


I simply ask that you look at the history of air borne pathogens including Spanish Flu, TB, SARS of various forms etc and notice that masks were the driving force to minimize spread. Cloth masks at the turn of the century and now microfiber that is still used in surgery, labs, and lab like places. It's not for show it really assists in minimizing the spread down to .02 Microns.


Home schooling has already been measured as a loss of social skills and minimized actual learning. It is a great burden on many working households. The issue is to make as safe as possible while providing the most normalized education possible. This may in fact be our new normal. The vaccination may be a choice however the mask should not. Take a stand for common sense, hor health and welfare, for science.


Mr Henke, I do not for a second think the masks people are wearing are effective at all in stopping the spread. Too many experts agree. Have you watched people with masks, always tugging at them, hands all over them, wearing the same mask day after day. Children wearing masks in school is cruel and unusual punishment. These children have less than one in a million chance of death from this flu, better chance to get shot on the way to school or getting run over by a bus.

Joe King

Your opinions may line up with Fox News, qanon and YouTube videos you watch, but they do not represent facts and advice from the medical and scientific community. When masks are worn, the spread is reduced. When vaccines are over 70%, the virus is reduced. Those have been tested and proven. It takes a community effort to protect the community.


Dingford, so more indicission will be costly to lives and families. You may wish to simplify this however look at the data. The national, State and local numbers speak to the need for masks.The CDC, Dr. Wait all say mask up regardless of vac status. It is real and it is the new normal. Delay and indecision is not acceptable.


What's the cost of passing along students every year that aren't passing the grade level they just left? Currently happening at a mask mandated school near you....


that is a ESC issue long before COVID. Home schooling has had a negative affect on students. Actual learning has been minimized. Students will be behind. Student should attend school with consistent safety practices for all, not based on disbelief or compliance. It is a school that must do it's best to teach during difficult times. Plenty of other industries have accepted these practices with success. It seems the school should learn as well.


As someone who's family member is a classroom educator, The whole classroom suffers wearing masks. Kids can't understand the teachers and teachers can't tell if kids are puzzled, learning or just being ambivalent. Plus kids wear the same dirty mask for days (Believe it, it happens!) and say this is all they have. Limited actual learning takes place....If kids are going to go, then let them learn and do school as its supposed to be. If we are just terrified of this as some of us resonate, then go back to in home learning. The middle ground is not beneficial to student or teacher....And just causes added classroom stress that takes away from learning...


All good points. Parents should decide whether or not their child should wear a mask that is not capable of stopping the spread of an airborne virus. I thought Biden was going to stop the spread. It is a viral flu that will mutate annually and next year at this time it will have a different variant name.


sidearm, agree that variants will continue however we cannot overload the health systems and cost billions upon billions of dollars to have families decide to wear a mask or not. Masks do work though not 100% but 40% more than marriages yet we continue those as well. A mask is a small inconvenience for the better protection. Let's not be on the wrong side of the learning curve.


On July 27, 2021, in light of the national increase in COVID-19 activity that has been fueled by the

Delta variant, the CDC issued new recommendations regarding the use of masking indoors. CDC

recommends that everyone wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high

transmission, regardless of vaccination status, to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant of



The ECS system remains out of touch. COVID Delta is infecting school age persons resulting in extended hospital stays and lasting neuro disease around the country. Students are now the largest sector of carriers and transmitters to others. The school wanting to stay politically correct and not offend is in need of a science class. Students will carry the disease home. What a disaster waiting to happen. When is the school going to learn? Do they understand science? Dr Wait (MD) is saying wear the mask! Dr Thalheimer (PhD) is saying stay with local rules. How much more local do you need to be!


Don't forget the County is under 35% fully vaccinated as well. I think the vaccination rate is inversely proportional to the ignorance factor.

Cheryl W.

Everyone please choose to be vaccinated! Let's raise the Elkhart County Percentage!!!


Are you sure Navy. It could be the other way around. We are all free to make our own decisions about the mask and the vaccine. We are all different. “It is not necessary for eagles to crows.”

Cheryl W.

DHenke is obviously out of touch. DHenke easily points his finger at others. DHenke needs to remember how many are pointing back at him. DHenke believes he knows all and is the expert about everything. Possibly, it might best not to always comment DHenke. Maybe just refrain sometimes! Are you in the room when ECS discussions take place? no! Do you know the consultation that takes place with the local health Dept as plans are made? It does. Are you a part of ECS? No. Do you even support your city's public schools? No! Remember there is a school board of trustees that votes on such issues. As a city council person, it might be good if you supported the school corporation and the many GREAT things occurring rather than trying to look important. It looks bad on you. You are not an epidemiologist last I was aware. Thank you to all Elkhart Schools Employees for all of your hard work! Covid decisions are very complex (and FLUID) and I know you are in constant communication with the state and the local health

Dept as you make these decisions. Thank you for serving the children and families of this community.! Your work is vital and I commend your work and the very difficult decisions that must be made. Thank you for your service to the children and families in Elkhart. DHenke has caused enough harm to the citizens of Elkhart and the employees of ECS and the children and families of ECS. Do not listen to him. He is out of touch. Vote him out at the next opportunity.


Cheryl, I am following the CDC and local Health Department advice. You may have an issue with me and that is fine however do not let that defray from the facts and data. Kids are vulnerable and having them in mass only perpetuates the spread. Have you been in the COVID wards? Have you looked at today's news from Mississippi? Schools should be a leader considering community health. Thalheimer stated he did not follow the Federal advice but the local advice. They both match. Mask up, consider the vulnerable of our community, Those of us in healthcare have experienced this first hand. WE know this is real.

(Edited by staff.)

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