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South Bend schools require masks for elementary students

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 6:27 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - A mask-wearing policy drawn up by the South Bend Community School Corporation has been changed just 10 days after it was announced, and it may be changed again.

On July 16th, the school corporation decided to “strongly encourage” students in pre-K to fifth grade to wear masks. At Monday’s school board meeting the policy was changed to “require” such mask wearing.

A survey shows that 90-percent of district families plan to return for face-to-face learning this fall, although less than 50-percent of St. Joseph County residents are vaccinated against COVID 19.

“With the changes in the delta variant numbers, increase of positivity cases in our area, we made the decision to require mask wearing for all elementary students because at this point, they are not able to be vaccinated,” said Brandon White, the SBCSC’s Chief Academic Officer.

The very day after the local policy tweak, the Centers for Disease Control issued a new recommendation for “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-through 12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

“We continue to have weekly internal COVID committee meetings where we review all the data from that week and see, are there any adjustment to our current practices we need to adjust,” White stated.

And a big adjustment may be required. The latest South Bend school’s policy requires all pre-K through 5th graders students—along with unvaccinated staff in those buildings--wear masks, while vaccinated staff can go mask free.

At the middle and high schools, the policy is for vaccinated students and staff to be mask free, while unvaccinated students and staff wear face coverings.

All school visitors—regardless of their vaccination status-will have to mask up, and masks are required on school buses through September.

At the end of the day, we share with families that these are the parameters that we’re putting in place within our best ability, but at the end of the day, it’s really a family’s choice on what’s the best model for them, and that’s why we continue offering the virtual school model,” said White.

Students are scheduled to return for in person learning, five days a week, starting August 11th.

At Monday’s school board meeting, President John Anella took a numerical approach toward advocating for increased vaccination. He said 97-percent of current COVID hospitalizations involve unvaccinated patients and that 99.5 percent of recent deaths involve unvaccinated individuals.

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