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School districts making local decisions on mask policies

On Friday, the CDC said fully-vaccinated students and teachers no longer need to wear a mask.

INDIANAPOLIS — Across Indiana, school districts are adopting mask policies for the new school year with classes just a couple weeks away in some places. 

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control announced that students and teachers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask.  

Masks became optional for people who are fully vaccinated at Ben Davis High School in M.S.D. of Wayne Township on July 1. But students are not required to report their vaccination status.

"By the time we go back, our junior high and high school students will have had enough time to be fully vaccinated if they want to be fully vaccinated,” said Dr. Kristina Box, state health commissioner. “So I feel more comfort there. I think it's the elementary kids that we have really no idea when they're going to actually be able to get immunized. That is more concerning for me and I know that's a difficult decision for parents." 

The decision is whether to send their unvaccinated children to in-person classes and whether to make them wear a mask. 

"If you mandate masks, 50 percent of people are angry,” said Dr. Box. “If you don't mandate masks, 50 percent of people are angry. I understand and I think no one should be criticized if the school doesn't require masks, sending their child to school with masks if they have concerns because we do know masks work to prevent the increased spread of these viruses."

At Wayne Township elementary schools, most students will be required to wear a mask. Most elementary school students are under 12 years old, not even eligible for the vaccine yet.

"We anticipate in our elementary schools, our children will be wearing masks until that age group has dropped down and our children are eligible and are getting those vaccinations,” said Dr. Jeff Butts, Wayne Township superintendent. “We know that's the number one thing that is providing safety for our students and for our staff."

"We all want this next school year to look more normal than it has in the last sixteen months,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana's chief medical officer. “But we also want schools to remember that COVID-19 is a communicable disease, and that schools are congregate settings where this virus can spread quickly among large groups of people." 

Schools must report COVID-19 cases to their county health department. Those infected and close contacts will have to quarantine unless they have been vaccinated.

School superintendents and school boards can make their own COVID-19 guidelines in consultation with the county health department. Dr. Butts will recommend to his school board Monday that Wayne Township schools remain in step with the current guidelines of  the Marion County Public Health Department.

"Things may change after we start back to school again, depending on what happens with the data,” said Dr. Butts. “We've tried to follow the data. We've always followed the guidance of the Marion County Public Health Department. And so, as they continue to monitor this on a county and statewide level, we'll continue to follow their guidance. They're the experts."

But no matter the mask policy in school, everyone attending every school must wear a mask on the bus, vaccinated or not. That is still mandated by the national Transportation Security Administration.

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