2 central Indiana schools to drop mask requirements; other districts still discussing plans

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — The Center Grove Community School Corporation and Westfield Washington Schools are among the first to announce plans to not require masks in school buildings for the 2021-2022 school year.

A district-wide email to Center Grove families Tuesday cited preliminary guidance from the Indiana State Department of Health.

“As of today, IDH has not mandated masks for schools for 21-22,” the district email said. “If that does not change, CGCSC will not require masks for our students or staff. Mask-wearing, of course, would be allowed.”

The announcement appears to be drawing wide support from parents in the district.

“If they don’t want to wear a mask, I’m okay with them not wearing masks,” said Center Grove parent Haley Emmons.

“It’s a minor inconvenience, but I feel totally safe with her going to school without a mask on,” Center Grove parent Jake Kitchell added.

“For older children that are available to have the vaccination, I can see where lifting mask mandate makes more sense,” said Center Grove parent Stephanie Riley. “But I know everybody has differing opinions on the matter.”

Center Grove School Corporation spokesperson Stacy Conrad said masks will still be required through summer school. Federal guidelines will also require masks to be worn on school buses.

Westfield Washington Schools also announced plans to drop mask requirements in schools starting in July.

“We are fortunate that we are at the point in this experience where restrictions are loosening and operations are beginning to look more familiar,” Westfield Washington Superintendent Paul Kaiser said in a statement. “Students, staff, teachers and administrators are encouraged to do what makes them comfortable, so long as you are following all prescribed guidelines.”

July 1 is a key date for discussions on masks in schools. Although the Indiana State Health Department recently passed along a “school decision tree” that recommends unvaccinated students wear masks, school districts will have the latitude to make their own requirements at the start of July.

“The school decision tree is based on CDC guidance and is just guidance, because under the governor’s latest Executive Order, schools make their own decisions beginning July 1,” Indiana State Health Department spokesperson Megan Wade-Taxter said in a statement.

“I believe it is a recommendation, I don’t believe it is a firm requirement,” said Johnson County Health Director Betsy Swearingen. “Right now we’re blue, we’re doing really well. We’re going to hope that we continue to do well.”

Other area school districts, including Indianapolis Public Schools, are in the midst of discussions about mask requirements.

“Indianapolis Public Schools will continue to require all students and staff to wear masks throughout summer 2021,” said IPS spokesperson Alpha Garrett. “The district will monitor guidance from the Marion County Public Health Department before finalizing COVID protocols for the 2021–22 school year.”

Other Marion County schools will also meet with Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Cain in early July before announcing mask plans for next year.

“I think it’s fair to say that the priority of feedback that we have been receiving is that families would like those masks to go away for school,” said Beech Grove City Schools Superintendent Dr. Laura Hammack. “So we just need to make our plans according to what we are allowed to permit, and we’ll make the best experience possible that we can for the students.”

Other area districts, including Hamilton Southeastern, Brownsburg, Wayne Township and Pike Township Schools, expect to take up the issue at school board meetings within the coming days.

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