More schools nix mask mandates

Students and staff at three more local districts will have the option to not wear a mask in school starting Monday.

Center Grove Superintendent Rich Arkanoff made the decision to nix the mask mandate in consultation with Johnson County health officer Jefferson Qualls, Center Grove school board members and Center Grove school leaders. Masks are still recommended, spokesperson Stacy Conrad said. And masks will still be required on school buses, per a federal mandate.

On Friday, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools updated parents on their new guidance, also moving to mask optional policies.

The halting of the mask mandate comes after Johnson County moved to “yellow,” according to the state’s COVID dashboard, indicating a reduced level of community spread.

“We feel like we’re in a better place,” said Terry Terhune, Greenwood’s superintendent. “We asked our parents to monitor symptoms and they have been really good at not sending kids to school if they are exhibiting symptoms.”

While Clark-Pleasant will only keep masks optional if the county is in “yellow” or better, according to the state’s COVID dashboard, Center Grove and Greenwood will likely rely more on school data to make decisions, school officials said.

There is a chance mask mandates will return to school buildings that have 2% of students out at one time with a COVID-19 case, similar to a policy the school board approved with the mask mandate. This time, the 2% mark won’t automatically trigger a mask mandate, but instead, will prompt school officials at the districts to consult the county health department, school officials said.

The Indiana Department of Health asks students to quarantine in mask optional schools if they are within three feet of a COVID-positive person for at least 15 minutes. Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools will no longer require students who fit the definition of a close contact to quarantine, provided they are asymptomatic and wear a mask at school for 10 days after exposure, school officials said.

The decision to remove the quarantine requirement for asymptomatic students comes from guidance from Qualls and the Johnson County Health Department, Arkanoff said.

Indiana is a home rule state, meaning local governments — and school boards — can make their own decisions, regardless of state guidance asking students to quarantine, Qualls said.

“If they come back as a close contact, they’ll have to wear a mask unless they’ve been vaccinated, and watch closely for a fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose,” he said. “We’ve been recommending (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines for two months, but there’s a big push to get kids back to normal. When I talked to people from the state, when I asked them when they will loosen the guidelines, I heard anywhere from January to March. Our vaccination rates are getting higher each week.”

As of Friday, 63.5% of eligible Johnson County residents are vaccinated, while more than 70% of eligible Greenwood residents are, according to state health department data.

Children age 12 and younger are not eligible to get vaccinated.

Franklin schools contemplated a similar decision about quarantine last week when its school board voted to get rid of its mask mandate, but concerns from Northwood Elementary School nurse Becky Nelson and school board member Ryan Waggoner prompted the board to delay any loosening of quarantine requirements until at least next month, meaning close contacts at Franklin schools will have to quarantine for 10 days after exposure.