After recommendations from local healthcare officials, the Muncie Community School Board voted to approve mandatory masking to begin the school year for all students and staff. At Tuesday night’s special meeting, even after several community comments that seemed mostly opposed to the mandatory status, the Board members seemed to have had their minds made up, in protection of the health of the school community. Citing lower rates of vaccinations in Delaware county, as well as what was called a shift in the messaging coming from IUBMH, the mandate will be reconsidered on what Board President Jim Williams suggested on as much as a weekly basis – for what has been called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Other health and safety protocols were approved, and in a document that was apparently posted by the District.
MORE: update, 8/4/2021, press release from MCS:
Muncie Community Schools (MCS) will require facemasks be worn by all staff, students, visitors and volunteers regardless of vaccination status to start the 2021-22 school year. The school board cited new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Indiana State Department of Health and consultations with Indiana University Ball Memorial Hospital when announcing its decision during tonight’s special meeting to unveil the district’s reopening plan.
“Unfortunately, the significant local spike in cases over the past few weeks has forced us to mandate masks in order to offer the safest learning environment possible for our students and staff,” MCS School Board President James Williams said. “Reliable evidence from our health providers both locally and statewide illustrate the danger to our children including those under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination.
“While we fully understand the inconvenience and other issues that go along with mask wearing, this is the safest course of action for our district at this time. It is absolutely critical that we keep students in the classroom; in this regard, the data tells us that mask wearing and social distancing gives us the best means of keeping the most students in the classroom for the greatest number of days. This policy will be revisited as circumstances permit, and it is our hope that the local vaccination rates rise to a level to effectively mitigate against subsequent Covid-19 surges.”
A federal mandate requires masks to also be worn while riding the bus to and from school. Other highlights of the district’s plan include a return to pre-COVID start times at the middle schools and Central High School; water fountains and touchless water stations available in all buildings; limited locker access in the secondary schools; and social distancing required in large gathering areas like the auditorium or cafeteria.
Parents are expected to continue to monitor their students’ health and keep them home if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms like fever, a persistent dry cough or severe headaches. If a student or staff member experiences symptoms that are not believed to be COVID-related, they may return to school without following the normal quarantine protocols, especially if they have been fully vaccinated.
“Our procedures have been developed with guidance from county and state health officials, and we’re happy to see they’ve determined that vaccinated people are at extremely low risk for contracting and passing on the virus,” MCS Director of Public Education and CEO Dr. Lee Ann Kwiatkowski said. “We want our students and teachers in school as much as possible.”
That seems to be the view of parents as well. Last year, MCS enrolled more than 1,300 people in its Virtual Learning Program, but less than 100 students have signed up so far this year.
“Virtual learning has its place and we’re pleased to be able to continue to offer that, but in-person instruction is clearly the best option to achieve success for the majority of our students,” Kwiatkowski said.
Registration for the upcoming school year is ongoing. People can visit EnrollinMCS.org to register students online, visit their home school or go to the MCS Administrative offices at 4301 South Cowan Road. Students’ first day of school is Tuesday, Aug. 10.
For more information, please visit muncieschools.org.