Franklin Community Schools plan would drop mask requirement, change quarantine procedures

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UPDATE: The Franklin Community Schools Board passed the revised Return to School COVID-19 Procedures on Monday night with one exclusion.

The plan no longer includes an option for non-vaccinated close contacts to attend school and avoid quarantine by wearing a mask.

Original story follows.

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FRANKLIN, Ind – The Franklin Community Schools Board is set to vote this evening on a plan that would lift the district’s mask requirement and change the way close contacts handle quarantine.

According to the plan, the district would return to a policy that says masks are recommended, but not required in school buildings. If a school building reaches a 2% student COVID-19 positivity rate, masks would be required in that building until the positivity rate drops below 1%.

“They have eight buildings,” said Johnson County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Qualls, who approved the plan. “If they hit four buildings that are above 2% positivity, they would go masks district-wide.”

The plan also says that in the event a student is a close contact with a positive COVID-19 case, the student could avoid quarantine and continue coming to school if they agree to wear a mask and check in with the school nurse each morning for a symptom screening.

Dr. Qualls said the plan reflects the current trends and case numbers in the district.  Johnson County is currently in the “orange” on Indiana’s map for community spread. However, Qualls said the county is close to trending back into the “yellow.”

“We have numbers from the beginning of the year, when we returned to school mask optional, that reflect that for every 25 students we quarantined, only one turned up being a positive case,” Qualls added.

If approved by the school board, the FCS policy would differ from guidance from the CDC and Indiana State Department of Health, which currently recommends that all students and staff wear masks in schools. The guidelines also say that non-vaccinated close contacts should quarantine for at least seven days if their school doesn’t have a mask mandate.

“They’d obviously like us to follow the little stricter, tighter state guidelines, which are merely just handed down from the CDC,” Qualls said.

Several other central Indiana school districts, including Danville and nearby Edinburgh and Indiana Creek Schools, have policies that differ from state COVID-19 guidance. While state health officials encourage districts to follow those guidelines, such decisions have been left up to local school districts since July. An ISDH spokesperson indicated there are no consequences for districts that stray from them.

“Ultimately, Indiana is a home rule state,” ISDH spokesperson Megan Wade-Taxter said in an email.  “And decisions about school protocols rest with school boards and local leaders, including local health departments and elected officials.”

“It should be noted that schools continue to remain required to follow Indiana’s Communicable Disease Rule, which includes COVID and other infectious diseases and ensures that contact tracing, isolation and quarantine occur,” Wade Traxter added. “We continue to work with schools to ensure they are following these requirements.”

Qualls said his office has had good communication and support from the State Health Department. However, he feels the plan being presented to the FCS Board is a better fit than the CDC guidelines.

“I guess my problem with that is no-one from the CDC has been in our county, has been in our school buildings like I’ve been, and talked to our administrators, nurses and principals and teachers,” he said.

The Franklin Community Schools Board is set to vote on the plan when they meet at Franklin Community Middle School at 7 p.m. tonight.

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