West Washington Votes For Students to Mask Up

West Washington Votes For Students to Mask Up

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The West Washington School Board voted unanimously last night (Wednesday, Sept. 1) to implement a mask policy for all students in grades K-12 beginning Tuesday, Sept. 7 when students will be returning from a two-week break doing virtual learning. 

A change in the state’s rules earlier Wednesday gave a boost to the concept of mask-wearing in schools around Indiana that had not previously required it. 

Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a new executive order that changes the rules in regards to quarantining, which will reduce the absences many local schools have faced over the first few weeks of a new school year due to contact tracing. 

It states:

For K-12 schools that have and consistently enforce a face-covering requirement for children, students, teachers, staff, and others present, close contacts are not required to quarantine and may continue to attend school as long as they are asymptomatic. The close contacts should monitor daily for
symptoms of COVID-19. Any symptoms of COVID-19 must prompt immediate removal of the symptomatic individual from the school environment. The individual should seek testing and isolate. This exception to quarantine only applies in the classroom setting and does not apply to extracurriculars,
athletics, etc.

For non-classroom settings, follow the exclusion requirements as follow:

Asymptomatic individuals, unless fully vaccinated or recovered from a COVID-19 infection within the past 90 days, who are identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case shall quarantine, including exclusion from preschools, daycare settings, employment, and public places, until:
A. 14 days after the date of last exposure;
B. 10 days after the date of last exposure, following additional precautions for days 11-14; or
C. 7 days after the date of last exposure with a negative PCR test result occurring on day 5 or later,
following additional precautions for days 8-14.

Precautions include monitoring for symptoms, wearing a mask at all times around other people, and maintaining at least six feet of distance from others at all times unless otherwise directed by state or local health authority.

Both West Washington and Salem Schools sent students home in mid-August to take virtual classes because their absentee percentage was over the state’s 20 percent threshold. 

“With the release of Governor Holcomb’s Executive Order on, the use of masks will virtually eliminate quarantines for those identified in contact tracing,” Superintendent Keith Nance wrote in a notation on the school’s return to school plan. 

“Individuals identified as a close contact will receive a phone call from the school informing the family of the contact tracing,” Nance noted. “They will NOT have to be subject to quarantine, but they will be given instructions on monitoring for symptoms and will quarantine if symptoms are present. This decision was made in an effort to keep our students in school and the school open.”

The 2021 school year began with no mask mandates from the state or local health departments and a requirement by the state that students who were sitting near someone who tested positive with Covid-19 be required to quarantine at home.

That resulted in a high number of students at home and forced some schools to move to a virtual learning plan.

The state has a rule that if a school has more than 20 percent of the students out due to any illness, they have to shut down. 

Originally when the new school year began, most schools around the US did not want to implement a mask mandate, which forced a high number of students out due to contact tracing as the Covid-19 cases rose. 

Nance also recommended that all extracurricular activities return on Monday, Sept. 6.

He said that will allow those sports under the Indiana High School Athletic Association rules to have four days of practice before a competition.

The West Washington Senators Football team (1-0) under new head coach Jeremy Lowery has missed two games — one in their conference and one not.

Their next game would be set for Friday, September 10 with Springs Valley at Art Sanders Field.

The board approved that request along with returning students to class on Tuesday, September 7. 

The return to school plan passed by the board mirrors the ones that East Washington and Salem have been working on collectively but Nance said the board made some changes to their final plan. (seen below)

Nance said many actions would remain the same as at the start of school – with masks being required on the school buses, seating charts, and households sitting together when possible. 

In the cafeteria now there will be seating charts and social distancing, and mask-wearing when not eating. 

In the classroom, there will be seating charts, social distancing, and masks for staff and students. 

Visitors will need to be approved by the building administrators, wear masks and their location inside the school will be recorded for contact tracing. 

ABSENTEE RATES

Although there will still be absences due to Covid-19 and contact tracing, those numbers should be greatly reduced under this new plan from the state. 

West Washington is addressing mitigation strategies for various percentages as follow:

Should there be a corporation-wide absentee rate of more than five percent due to Covid-19 or other illnesses, then full class and extracurricular participation will continue and masks will be required for staff and students. Full attendance at extracurricular events will continue with social distancing and masks strongly recommended. 

If there is greater than 15 percent of students absent due to Covid-19 or other illnesses, then full class and extracurricular participation will continue as normal with everyone wearing masks. The difference here is at 15 percent or greater absenteeism, the attendance at extracurricular events will be limited to 1/3 capacity with social distancing and masks required. 

If there is a situation like two weeks ago with greater than 20 percent of the students absent due to Covid-19, then the board will be required to decide if there needs to be a move to virtual instruction and the length of that time or a shutdown of extracurricular events is necessary and the length of that possible shutdown. 

There was one member of the public signed up to speak at last night’s meeting but they did not attend. 

There were no comments from the public regarding the board’s decision.