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Greater Clark won’t mandate masks next school year

Greater Clark School Board members heard from an animated crowd while approving the district’s...
Greater Clark School Board members heard from an animated crowd while approving the district’s COVID-19 policy for the 2021-22 school year Tuesday night.(News and Tribune)
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 8:30 AM EDT
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CLARK COUNTY, Ind. (News and Tribune) - Greater Clark School Board members heard from an animated crowd while approving the district’s COVID-19 policy for the 2021-22 school year Tuesday night, when several in attendance shouted over district leaders at times.

Greater Clark County Schools announced that it would highly recommend masks for unvaccinated students, but masks will not be mandated in the next school year.

Many community attendees voiced opposition to mask requirements. A few brought signs, including one saying “unmask our kids.”

The board voted 5-0 to approve its Return to School plan, which outlined its COVID-19 protocols.

Board member Katie Hutchinson was absent from the meeting, and board member Bill Hawkins left the meeting immediately after announcing his resignation from the board.

Greater Clark Superintendent Mark Laughner said the district is in a “much better situation in terms of the rate of spread and cases.”

“It’s going to be optional whether students and staff wear a mask on school property during the school day,” he said. “That will be a parent decision in terms of whether their child wears a mask.”

Despite the large attendance, only one person spoke during public comments to discuss her opposition to masking — her comments followed the presentation of the Return to School plan. People wanting to speak at meetings are required to sign up in advance for public comment, a process school leaders clarified during the meeting.

Laughner said masks will only be mandated on school transportation, which is a federal requirement.

In terms of social distancing, staff and students will be asked to remain three feet apart in classrooms and other school settings whenever possible, and assigned seating and grouping will be used in common areas “for contact tracing purposes,” Laughner said.

The only time the district will ask about the vaccination status of a student or staff member will be situations of COVID-19 exposure, he said.

“If a student or staff member has been exposed to COVID, they will still have to quarantine for up to 14 days,” he said. “If they can provide us evidence that they’ve been vaccinated, then they will not have to quarantine.”

This resulted in critical comments from several in attendance, including one person who raised a concern about HIPAA violations.

“You have no right to ask anyone that,” the attendee said in reference to Laughner’s statement on asking about vaccination status in situations of COVID-19 exposure.

Laughner clarified it would be up to the parent to volunteer that information to the school.

Some crowd members spoke out during the presentation of the Return to School plan, even as Greater Clark Board President John Buckwalter repeatedly asked them to refrain from comments during the meeting.

There “could be some hurdles during this school year,” Laughner said, and there could still be staffing concerns due to quarantines that might lead to eLearning periods.

“We’re not out of the woods in that regards as far as the staffing issue,” he said.

The decisions could change in upcoming months, he said.

“If the governor passes an executive order mandating masks, we’re going to follow that executive order,” Laughner said. “If the county health department makes that mandate, we’re going to follow it. We hope that doesn’t happen.”