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Tippecanoe health doc calls for masks in schools. Fight coming?
Dr. Jeremy Adler, Tippecanoe County’s health officer, calls for schools to put masks back on kids, teachers. Districts weighing the advice. Purdue calls masks in classrooms a game day decision
Are mandatory masks returning to Greater Lafayette’s schools?
Dr. Jeremy Adler, Tippecanoe County’s health officer, put school districts on the spot Wednesday, recommending that they follow new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on COVID-19, calling on everyone in K-12 schools to wear a mask inside classrooms.
“The Tippecanoe County Health Department has advised local school boards to adopt the new CDC guidance and require masks for everyone in the schools,” Adler posted Wednesday afternoon on the health department’s Facebook page.
Adler also recommended that all residents, whether they are vaccinated or not, wear a mask indoors, given Tippecanoe County’s status for community spread of the coronavirus.
Tippecanoe County – with an average of 27 cases a day over the past week, a number not seen since the start of May and up from an average of nine a day three weeks ago – was upgraded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a “high’ level of community transmission, as of Wednesday, according to a CDC COVID tracker. Meanwhile, the county’s fully vaccinated number was at 55 percent of those 12 and older, as of Wednesday, according to the CDC.
The new CDC guidelines, a reversal of May 13 recommendations that put vaccinated people in the clear to ditch masks, recommend everyone wear masks in indoor settings in communities rated for “substantial” or “high” COVID-19 transmission.
Given contentious school board meetings earlier this month, Lafayette, Tippecanoe and West Lafayette school corporations could face blowback – no matter what they do.
IN GREATER LAFAYETTE SCHOOLS: Reopening plans for the fall semester include optional mask-wearing in Lafayette and Tippecanoe School Corp. buildings. In West Lafayette, masks will be required in K-6 grades. On Wednesday, Sue Scott, a TSC spokeswoman, said TSC’s policy hadn’t changed. Same for Lafayette School Corp., Superintendent Les Huddle said. West Lafayette was re-evaluating its position, “as we said we would do at the July 12 meeting if any new news came our way,” Alan Karpick, West Lafayette Community School Corp. board president, said.
“With the CDC recommendations just coming out, we are currently in discussion with our local health officials (Wednesday) and any changes for wearing masks will be announced within the next day or two,” Huddle said, before a meeting with Adler.
Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, a TSC parent who started a petition to get the district to copy West Lafayette’s K-6 mask guideline, said she had 264 signatures and would continue to press for that change.
“We are aware that local medical professionals are urging the district to reinstate masking – at a minimum, for elementary school students who do not yet have access to vaccines,” Dobbs-Oates said. “There is still time to change the plan to protect the health of the community -- and to make it more likely that children will be able to stay in school.”
Her petition met stiff resistance two weeks ago from dozens of parents who said TSC should leave masking questions up to parents and students. Several said they didn’t intend to get vaccinated. Several said they would home school their children if they were forced to wear masks.
A sampling from the 90-minute debate:
“Freedom and liberty are things that are crucial to this country,” Matt Galvan, a TSC parent, said. “The goalpost keeps moving and keeps moving. … So, we go into another year where we don't get our freedoms, we don't get to make our own decisions. It's become tyrannical. And it needs to stop.”
HERE’S A LOOK AT HOW THE SCENE PLAYED OUT: “Masks or no masks in schools: Parents push TSC, WL both directions.”
FOR SPECIFIC MASK PLANS FOR SCHOOLS: Scroll to the bottom of the page.
MASKING QUESTIONS AT PURDUE: The university’s vaccination policy is one President Mitch Daniels has called a matter of personal responsibility. Boiled down: Students and employees can show that they’re immunized against COVID-19 or count on regular – read: weekly – testing to keep the spread of the virus to a minimum on the West Lafayette campus.
The campus reopening plan includes this: “We intend to start classes in the fall with little or no use of face masks.”
During a video update hosted Monday by leaders of the Protect Purdue effort, Provost Jay Akridge said the university trustees left a decision about masks in classrooms and some other indoor spots on campus until closer to the start of the fall semester.
Their overriding message: “Get the vaccine,” Dr. Esteban Ramirez, chief medical officer at the Protect Purdue Health Center, said. “It’s the best thing you can do to keep campus safe.”
Questions anticipating conflict over mask requirements, whether for the vaccinated or unvaccinated, dominated parts of the one-hour session. (That was a day before the new CDC recommendations. Tim Doty, a university spokesman, said Purdue wouldn’t have updated information by the end of the day Tuesday.)
What about in one-on-one sessions between faculty and students? Jenna Rickus, vice provost for teaching and learning, said the university recommended that faculty and staff generally avoid asking students directly about their vaccination status. She said Purdue recommended “productive mutual conversations” when heading into a one-on-one setting. “If you prefer masks, you can ask students to wear masks,” Rickus said. “Now, if the student refuses, then our recommendation would be that you could offer a virtual appointment for that student. If you are vaccinated and are comfortable going without a mask, which is acceptable under our current masking policies, we would suggest you ask the student what their preferences are. … Everyone is going to find a comfort zone.”
Can an employee, working in the same indoor office space, ask an unvaccinated co-worker to mask up, as required by Purdue policy? “If there is someone, an individual or individuals who have volunteered their vaccination status that they are not vaccinated, it is reasonable for another employee to expect those individuals to remain wearing masks in indoor spaces,” said Eric Barker, dean of the College of Pharmacy and part of the Protect Purdue implementation team.
What’s next on campus, where masks were mandatory in most places for the 2020-21 academic year? “The masking policy is likely to be dynamic, and we’ll just have to follow the current masking protocols as they progress and make changes,” Rickus said.
IN THE COMMUNITY: West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, who imposed a mask mandate last summer to sync up with Purdue’s policy, said Tuesday there were no plans for the city council to reissue that. But Dennis said he would listen to the advice of Adler, which, as of Wednesday, did not call for a mandate. Outside of West Lafayette’s mask mandate, Lafayette and Tippecanoe County adhered to the mask orders issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb. Holcomb told the Indianapolis Star he was studying the CDC recommendations – though the report outlined the political reasons why he might avoid that, at this point. U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, railed on the CDC guidelines, saying the mask decision should be up to local officials and individuals. “No more mandates for masking,” Braun said.
SCHOOL REOPENING PLANS, SPECIFICALLY ON MASKS: Here’s how school districts’ reopening plans break down, ahead of the CDC’s and Adler’s advice on masks:
Tippecanoe School Corp.: As of July 1, “students and staff are not required to wear masks in school, masks are optional in school and on school grounds. The TSC recommends consultation with your family medical provider regarding your decision to wear a mask.”
Lafayette School Corp.: Also as of July 1, “face masks and/or face coverings will be optional while on any of the LSC properties or in a LSC building. … Unless the CDC, the State of Indiana Health Department or the Tippecanoe County Health Department issue a directive that face masks and/or face covering are mandated, the LSC will follow the guidance that face masks and/or face coverings are optional.”
West Lafayette Community School Corp.: West Side will have two sets of rules, depending on grades, based on the fact that those under 12 have not been cleared to be vaccinated.
For K-6: Masks are required for all unvaccinated students indoors when not eating. Masks are required for unvaccinated staff when not eating and for all visitors. Vaccinated staff are encouraged to wear a mask if more comfortable doing so.
Grades 7-12: Masks are not required for vaccinated students and staff. Masks are encouraged for unvaccinated students and those vaccinated students more comfortable wearing them. Masks are encouraged for unvaccinated staff and visitors and for the vaccinated more comfortable wearing them.
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