Starting Thursday, masks will be mandatory for students, staff and visitors at all Elkhart Community Schools. The ECS school board approved the mandate Tuesday in a 4-3 vote.
Reviewing the district’s mask-optional policy wasn’t originally on the agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting, a fact that Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said drew ire from public commenters.
“The one thing that people were upset about and voicing [Tuesday] evening was that they felt that this was something that was snuck in and trying to avoid public comment,” Thalheimer said Wednesday. “That’s not the case at all.”
Thalheimer said ahead of the meeting, the board asked him for a presentation on the school’s pandemic data due to concerns they’d heard from community members during the first full week of school. Based on that presentation, he said, they added the agenda item at the beginning of the meeting.
“Based on what they saw, they decided they wanted to act – again, a sense of urgency felt by a majority of those board members,” Thalheimer said. “There was nothing underhanded or sneaky being done.”
ECS has reported 62 positive cases since school began, which Thalheimer said is higher than most weeks last year. He also said the district has reported 205 close contacts, more than double its previous high the first week of April.
With cases on the rise both locally and across the state, Thalheimer said the mandate will help keep students from returning to virtual or hybrid learning.
“I know that some people are very frustrated and upset,” he said. “All we’re trying to do when putting this in place is maintain students in our buildings and give them the in-person instruction that so many people across the board are saying that they want for our students,” he said.
Goshen Community Schools required masks for all K-6 students this week, after requiring them for staff and visitors earlier this month. Masks have been mandatory in South Bend Community Schools since the beginning of August.
Thalheimer said administrators will continue to review state and local data to determine when the mask mandate might lift. In the meantime, he said students can seek medical exemptions if necessary.
Masks will be required starting Thursday, but Thalheimer said the district is allowing a grace period through the end of the week “for families to be able to acquire masks.” He said full enforcement will begin Monday.
WVPE’s license is owned by Elkhart Community Schools.
This story has been updated.
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