RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central administrators and the teacher’s association discussed a movement to make face masks mandatory for students when schools open up next month.
But in order to do that, the feeling at Tuesday’s school board meeting was there needed to be someone of higher power to support that mandate.
“We have to have weight behind it,” said RCSC board president Chris Phillips.
In stepped Gov. Eric Holcomb.
On Wednesday, Holcomb signed an executive order that all Hoosiers are to wear masks in public — and in schools — for the foreseeable future. The mandate begins Monday, July 27 and will likely extend well into August.
Students at RCSC will begin school on Aug. 13.
Because the number of COVID-19 cases have continued to increase in Indiana over the past couple of weeks, RCSC superintendent Curtis Craig told board members that wearing masks in schools would be the most effective way to control the spread of the virus.
In the same breath, he reminded the board that mandating students to wear masks in schools was a hot button issue among those who responded to the corporation’s re-opening survey last month.
“Masks generated the most passionate responses on our survey,” Craig said. “Many individuals were adamant about not wanting to wear masks at school or have their children wear masks. We knew implementing a policy without widespread support would be difficult.”
School officials planned to discuss ways to make masks mandatory during a meeting with the county health department on Wednesday, but Holcomb’s order puts the state’s most recognizable figure in front of the movement.
“I am pleased the governor made this decision, and we will be modifying our plans to include the wearing of masks for pre-kindergarten through grade 12,” Craig said. “After listening to our health professionals, I believe this is the best course of action to protect our school community.”
Craig understands there will be push-back from some parents, many of whom will likely keep their kids from attending school in person. He said schools will develop plans of study for those particular students.
“For those who are opposed to wearing masks or are unsure of the benefits of wearing masks,” Craig said, “I encourage you to keep an open mind and watch for further information on our website and Facebook page. The stakes are very high and it is essential we work together. I know we share the same goal of getting our students back in school and keeping them safe.”
In preparation for a mask mandate, the corporation ordered 4,000 single-use masks for students this spring. Four hundred cloth masks with the Rensselaer Central design and 300 more black cloth masks were also ordered, as well as 300 KN95 masks for teachers, N95 masks for health care workers at the school and 50 face shields.
“We tried to anticipate multiple options,” Craig said.
Teacher association president Stacy Kurdelac opened the board meeting by emphasizing the need to protect teachers as well as students.
“With the ever-changing numbers, our teachers are concerned with coming back,” she said. “Some teachers see 750 students per week, 150 per day. That’s a lot of people to be in contact with.”
The board also discussed the school’s pandemic plan if a student is diagnosed with COVID. Craig said the corporation can decide to close a particular school if a student is found to have COVID or the entire corporation can be moved to distance learning until a solution is found.
“If we need one day, two days, five days, we’ll figure it out with the health department,” Craig said. “If we’re comfortable in going back then we’ll go back. We’ve got to take our time and be thorough.”
Craig praised coaches of fall sports for keeping their athletes safe every day. Athletes are currently working through conditioning drills before full team practices are allowed on Aug. 15.
Phase 2 of the IHSAA’s plan to begin the fall sports season runs from July 20 to Aug. 14. Phase 3 starts Aug. 15.
“Every kid is screened every day,” Craig said. “Temperatures are taken and they are questioned. If they continue on this path, we’ll be able to open up competition when it is allowed.”