Clark-Pleasant, Central Nine make masks optional

Students and staff at two more local schools will have the choice whether to wear masks this coming school year.

Masks will be optional at Clark-Pleasant schools, officials said Thursday. The same is true for Central Nine, the area career and technical education destination for nine feeder schools, including every Johnson County school district except Edinburgh.

The coming school year will kick off July 28 at Clark-Pleasant schools with full in-person learning, meaning the district is eliminating its online option. Clark-Pleasant schools consulted with the Johnson County Health Department, said Patrick Spray, superintendent.

“Considering the number of vaccinated adults and older kids, it also has to do with the infection rate in the county. We feel we’re on pretty safe and solid ground with masks optional,” Spray said. “Some kids will want to be able to wear their masks. They should be able to do that.”

Although Central Nine had a hybrid schedule during the winter COVID-19 surge, it did not have an online option once students returned to classes full-time in the spring.

Thus far, more than half of eligible Johnson County residents are fully vaccinated, though just 42% of eligible residents in the Clark-Pleasant-area zip code are vaccinated as of Friday, according to data from the Indiana Department of Health.

More than 60% of eligible residents are vaccinated in the zip code in which Central Nine is located, state data shows.

Though there was pushback against mask wearing at the Clark-Pleasant’s June school board meeting, school officials were already leaning toward making masks optional before the meeting occurred, Spray said.

Online schooling will be discontinued, he said.

“We do our best instruction in person. That’s how we built our instructional model and that’s how we will move forward at Clark-Pleasant,” Spray said.

Clark-Pleasant and Central Nine joined Franklin schools in making masks optional for the upcoming school year. Center Grove schools suggested in an email to parents that mask wearing would be optional unless local or state guidance changes, and former Greenwood schools superintendent Kent DeKoninck said mask wearing will most likely be optional there.

Vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in relaxing its COVID-19 guidelines.

The changes come amid a national vaccination campaign in which children as young as 12 are eligible to get shots, as well as a general decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

“We’re at a new point in the pandemic that we’re all really excited about,” and so it’s time to update the guidance, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force that prepares recommendations designed to keep Americans safe from COVID-19.

However, unvaccinated students and staff who are identified as a close contact to a COVID-19 case will still be required to quarantine, according to plans at Clark-Pleasant and Central Nine.

Clark-Pleasant will also continue sanitary practices beyond the pandemic, including maintaining proper air circulation, social distancing, providing water bottle-filling stations, hand-washing and wiping down hard surfaces, according to its plan.

“We probably should have been more cognizant on virus protection and prevention for a long time. They are things we’ll continue as a part of that new normal,” Spray said.

Clark-Pleasant and Central Nine’s plans may be altered if the pandemic worsens, officials at both said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.