Masks for all, FWCS decrees
10 Aug 2021 — Journal Gazette
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Rosa Salter Rodriguez

It's masks on for all Fort Wayne Community Schools students, staff and visitors, when school resumes Monday.

That's what Superintendent Mark Daniel told school board members Monday while outlining the district's new policy to cope with COVID-19.

The new requirement applies inside school buildings and on buses, Daniel said. And it applies both to vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The official launch date is Wednesday, he said, but that mostly will affect staff.

Daniel said the new rule was made in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases, as well as new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, state and local health officials and schools' staff.

He read a statement from Allen County Health Department Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter that said Sutter now is "strongly encouraging" Allen County schools and school boards to follow those agencies' guidance.

"With COVID on the rise again, and low vaccination rates among students," Daniel said, " we must take precautions."

He said that among students in grades 6 through 12, all of whom are now eligible for vaccination, 96% are not fully vaccinated.

"That's a parent's choice, and I think they should have that choice," he said. "But what that means is kids are going to be coming in without any vaccination" to protect them or others.

Since July 1, FWCS has "strongly encouraged" masks indoors for students in kindergarten through fifth grade and recommended them for unvaccinated staff and students in middle school through high school.

Masks have not been required for them, although masks have been required for school visitors, including parents, unless proof of vaccination is shown, and for students and staff on school buses.

Local school officials have been responsible for setting their districts' COVID-19 rules since a statewide mask mandate for schools expired June 30.

Daniel said it will take "a layered approach" to protect students this year. He urged parents to keep students home if they are ill and practice frequent hand-washing.

Schools will continue to practice physical distancing and enhanced sanitation, and more activities may take place outdoors, he said.

Daniel said distancing requirements may be reduced to 3 feet if all students are masked. He added that is difficult in many cases because of lack of space, but even more problematic is quarantining practices after a COVID-19 exposure.

Quarantining procedures are still being worked out, he said.

He said there will be no hybrid schedules or districtwide virtual options, although individual teachers may use some virtual means or communicate with quarantined students by email.

"Our first priority for the school year is to keep students at all grade levels in school five days a week," Daniel said.

The CDC on July 27 stiffened its guidance on masks, recommending vaccinated and unvaccinated people, including students, teachers and staff wear a face covering indoors in geographic areas experiencing virus surges.

Allen County qualifies. The CDC classifies it as an area with high virus transmission, according to CDC data from Aug. 2 to Aug. 8, the latest available.

Most of Indiana also qualifies as having high transmission, the top category. Fourteen counties are experiencing the second category, substantial transmission, but that level also qualifies them for the CDC restriction.

The CDC also recommended students return to in-person learning, which Daniel said is a top goal for this academic year.

School board members did not need to vote on the masks policy because they previously ruled that Daniel was empowered to make COVID-19 decisions. All members indicated they supported the measure and school staff as they work through it.

"I think your decision is going to keep us safe," said Ann Duff, board president.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"Masks for all, FWCS decrees" Journal Gazette 10 Aug 2021: A1