Clay County school board approves new mask protocols by a 4-3 vote

Local News

CLAY COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — In a room filled with dozens of concerned family members, the Clay County school board narrowly passed two revisions Tuesday night, one of which will require students to wear masks starting on Thursday.

Masks will be mandated in all schools if the county is at a red advisory level.

If an individual school has a COVID-19 positivity rate of over 5 percent, the school must mandate masks, regardless of the color county advisory.

The recommendations and revisions came from the Clay County health officer. While officials said this plan is the best way to keep kids in class, many in attendance disagreed.

After the vote, people in attendance called for the removal of some members of the board.

Disagreeing with the school’s decision is Jeremy Touchet, who said masks should be a personal choice.

“I think that’s bogus. I think that’s wrong. I don’t think it helps our kids. It hurts them,” Touchet said.

He added that his concerns also come from CDC guidelines that “keep changing.”

Though the corporation had hoped for a more normal school year, Clay County Community Schools Superintendent Jeff Fritz said the revisions are due to rising COVID-19 cases.

“We’ve seen quite a spike in Clay County. the county is in red. We’re the only county in our surrounding area in red. It’s impacted our schools,” Fritz said. “We’ve had several positive cases and many kids quarantined.”

Fritz said the plan allows schools to be flexible and not have a mandate straight across the district.

“Our goal is one, to educate students. Two, educate them in person. To do that, we need everything we can to keep our kids in school. If we aren’t dealing with this, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he added. “Our cases have gone up and we certainly want to keep our schools open if we can.”

Immediately after the meeting was adjourned, public comment was not allowed. This angered many in attendance. One of those angered was Callie Hogan, a sophomore at Northview.

“I feel like my voice wasn’t heard. I have a lot of anger and sadness built up,” Hogan said. “For the last year we’ve had to wear masks. It’s changed the mood. You can’t see people smiling or their reactions.”

Agreeing with Hogan was fellow student Claire Siples.

“It’s frustrating with the changes, it makes life and school more difficult,” Siples said. “It’s hard to meet people and understand the teachers. I’m also concerned about the kids with health issues.”

Superintendent Fritz describes the decision made by the board as “not easy.”

“COVID-19 has created a lot of challenged in school,” Fritz said. “The challenges are keepings kids in school and sending kids home that are close contacts. It’s a hardship on parents if kids aren’t in school. It was in our best interest to look at some easy choices at this point.”

Masks will not be required during lunch or outdoor activities.

Parent Erin Moore said regardless of Clay County’s COVID-19 status, parents should be the ones deciding if kids are masked.

“It bothers me there was no public comment. We’re all aware of the risks and we, as parents, have the right to choose for our children,” Moore said. “We have kids that are struggling, exponentially struggling with all of this. The masks only make it 1000 times worse.”

This mandate goes into effect on Aug. 18.

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