LINDEN — The North Montgomery Community School Corp. board voted unanimously in an emergency meeting on Friday to lower the threshold for requiring masks in the classroom, as local school districts continue monitoring the spread of the coronavirus.
The new benchmark for individual schools is a 1% seven-day positivity rate, replacing the 3% threshold the board set just two weeks ago amid a spike in student cases at the high school, prompting a shift to e-learning until after Labor Day.
In recommending the change, superintendent Dr. Colleen Moran said that while the original yardstick had been set based on the latest available data, the virus is spreading faster than before.
“It’s not something we want to become a way of life,” Moran said about wearing masks, “we just want to keep kids in school.”
Three schools — North Montgomery Middle School, Sugar Creek Elementary and Pleasant Hill Elementary — are currently above the new threshold, but have come down from their peaks, according to data shared with the board.
There had been no positive student cases reported at the high school since in-person classes resumed on Tuesday, Moran said.
Under the new policy, wearing masks will become optional again if a school’s positivity rate stays below 1% for 14 consecutive calendar days, but the clock resets if the rate goes higher, the policy states.
Though he spoke in favor of lowering the threshold, board member Jarrod Zachary asked if e-learning will be available to children who have a legitimate medical reason for not wearing a mask. In those cases, an exemption would be pursued, Moran said, but the district hasn’t received any requests.
The board will reevaluate the new policy at the next regular meeting on Sept. 27, if not sooner.
At Crawfordsville, student cases and quarantines have dropped by around half in recent days, superintendent Dr. Scott Bowling said Thursday in an update to the school board.
A total of 20 students had tested positive for the virus so far this week, down from 46 the week before, Bowling said.
Quarantines fell to 159 from a high of 333 two weeks ago. “A good portion” of those students, Bowling said, were ending their quarantines before the district enacted its new mask policy, and the number is expected to drop even lower.
In an emergency meeting last week, the board changed the policy to require masks be worn inside all buildings districtwide while Montgomery County remains under the orange advisory level on the state’s COVID-19 tracking map.
Wearing masks is optional once the level changes to yellow or blue.
The board heard from unmasked parents who said they believe the policy isn’t being equally applied and that they were caught off guard by the new policy, which took effect immediately after it was adopted.
Amanda Shrum, who has two children and a stepchild in the district, said that, during recent visits to Hose Elementary, she called out the front office secretaries for not wearing masks. She said the secretaries explained masks weren’t necessary since they were seated 6 feet apart and using a plexiglass divider.
“It seems the message that you are sending to the kids [is] do as I say, not as I do,” Shrum said.
Parent Kylie McFarland said she did not receive any notifications from the school after the board changed the policy.
“We trust you guys to make the decisions for our kids, but we felt blindsided as an overall community,” McFarland said.
The emergency meeting was called the day after Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order allowing schools to stop quarantining nonsymptomatic close contacts, as long as everyone in the building was wearing masks throughout the day.
The district notified the media when the meeting was scheduled and posted notices as required by Indiana’s Open Door Law.
“There was no intent to pull something off that you didn’t have a chance to comment on, but we needed to have [the meeting] happen, so we did it,” board president Steve McLaughlin said.
At South Montgomery Community School Corp., a 3% mask threshold remains in place. Its board holds its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the corporation office.