Vigo County school board votes to require masks for grades 7-12

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WEST TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — The Vigo County School Corporation board of trustees voted unanimously at a 6 p.m. meeting Monday to move grades 7-12 to universal masking when indoors. It will take effect Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Grades PreK-6 in Vigo County have had universal masking inside schools prior to this vote, but grades 7-12 could previously choose to remove their mask during forward-facing instruction. However, following the board’s vote, all teachers and students in the county will now adhere to a universal masking policy when indoors.

Disagreeing with the decision is parent, Ashley Fentz, she says parents should be making that decision.

“I don’t feel like anything good ever comes out of forcing someone to follow along. It’s not a one size fits all. It’s not a what’s best for one is best all,” She said.

She adds her family is new to the area, saying her children looked forward to attending school when they heard masks weren’t always required.

“To hear my child say they don’t look forward to school is disheartening,” She stated.

The recommendation to move to universal masking was based on guidance from the COVID-19 Advisory Group, a group of healthcare professionals and community members. According to board members who spoke Monday night, the mask mandate in schools will be in effect until after another executive order comes from the Governor or recommendations from the advisory board change.

Grades Pre-K-6th are already enforcing similar protocols.

“School is important not just to our students but our entire community,” said Dr. Rob Haworth, superintendent. “By [making] these changes, we are simply trying all we can do to keep school in session and parents working.

He adds the corporation’s goal is to keep students in school.

“That’s the goal behind that. We believe a student that is in school learning from a teacher is a far better product compared to virtual school, ” Haworth added. “We don’t want to be like other schools that are going to E-learning.”

The recommendation was based on the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations in Vigo County and the district’s efforts to keep more students in school this year. 

At the last board meeting, V.C.S.C. appointed a new COVID-19 task force to evaluate local metrics and make recommendations. The universal masking recommendation is one of the first orders done by the group.

“We have people looking at this from all different angles, health, economic, and such. Not everyone agreed and there were different layers to look at,” He said.

In favor of universal masking is parent, Ruth Fairbanks. She says her priority is keeping students safe and community transmission.

“The best way to keep schools open and delivering in-person education, which they’re great at doing. The best way to do that is control community spread is have high rates of vaccination. We need to control spread in our community,” She said.

During the public comment section, some individuals held up a green colored index cards to show their support to statements made by some speakers or held up a red card to show they disapproved of certain points made by other speakers.

It’s a movement Fentz said she was against.

“I feel like that the room was bias and holding up those cards was uncalled for. When the board looks up and that’s all they see, I feel like that has some sway. I don’t feel like my voice was heard,” She said.

“Yesterday, we released our new COVID-19 Dashboard, which we will update on Wednesdays,” Haworth said Friday. “The dashboard shows that COVID-19 is something that our community is struggling with. Specifically, we are concerned about the 39% rise in new cases in our community from last week to this week.”

The advisory group also took into account Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Executive Order 21-24 issued on Sept. 1. By making this change, the district is now following the governor’s executive order, which allows for VCSC to avoid quarantines in the classroom when all are masked.

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