As parents lobby the Northwest Allen County Schools board to relax masking rules, teachers are speaking up in support of mask-wearing and other coronavirus precautions.
Such protocols make in-person instruction possible during the pandemic, protecting students from the greatest threat to their social and emotional health – isolation from classmates and teachers, the Northwest Allen County Education Association said in a statement.
“To safely achieve the 'in-person' structure, precautionary measures such as the wearing of masks and social distancing must be implemented and respected,” the union said. “These precautionary measures allow educators to effectively support the academic success and emotional health of the thousands of NACS students and families in our community.”
Dozens of people, mostly unmasked, attended the March 29 board meeting calling for an end to masks in school despite Gov. Eric Holcomb mandating masks in K-12 classrooms through the end of the academic year.
Superintendent Chris Himsel, who resisted invitations from the audience to remove his mask, said mask-wearing is one of the five main mitigation strategies the district implemented this academic year. Together, he said during the meeting, the precautions – including social distancing and increased hand-washing – have kept in-school transmissions of the virus low.
Some students are vulnerable to the coronavirus, Himsel added, and there are parents who want more stringent policies implemented. Most children also can't get vaccinated yet, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said last week.
Eligibility in Indiana opened Wednesday to people as young as 16.
The school board last week approved an idea by President Kent Somers to hold a work session this month with health officials to review the district's coronavirus policies. A date has not been announced. Regular board meetings are scheduled for April 12 and 26.
The teachers union said it supports the district's reopening plan, which included input from the education association and local health officials.
“To continue supporting our students socially, emotionally and academically,” the union said, “we must be proactive in addressing the physical health risks presented by the pandemic.”