HANCOCK COUNTY — As the county’s public school districts finalize their back-to-school protocols for dealing with the pandemic, they are hearing more from parents who want to begin the school year with no COVID-19 restrictions for their children.
Parents addressed meetings of two school boards on Monday evening, July 12, to ask leaders to pull back from the restrictions — especially mask-wearing — calling it unnecessary. At Greenfield-Central, where administrators unveiled their plan for the first time Monday, more than 30 people attended an anti-mask rally before the school board meeting. About 40 people attended the Southern Hancock School Board meeting, where similar pleas were made ahead of the first day of school on Aug. 3.
All four county school districts plan to begin the new year without a mask requirement inside their buildings. Greenfield-Central is calling its recommendation a “masks recommended, not required” policy for when students return to school on July 29. All of the policies have similar wording and allow for re-evaluation as conditions change. Mt. Vernon, which also re-reopens on July 29, has put in place a color-coded metric that adds restrictions in the event of heightened community spread of the coronavirus. Eastern Hancock, which re-opens on Aug. 4, formally adopted its plan at its meeting Monday night as well. (The plans can be read in their entirety on the school systems’ websites.)
While children will be able to go maskless inside school buildings, restrictions will still be in place on their bus rides. All the schools intend to follow an ongoing federal requirement that people using public transportation must wear a face covering.
That doesn’t sit well with some parents, including Brandy Kropp, who emotionally told the Southern Hancock Board Monday that one of her children became ill because of the effects of wearing a mask.
“My youngest complained repeatedly he could not breathe and fell asleep numerous times on the bus ride each afternoon and couldn’t be woken up by the bus driver,” Kropp told board members.
She noted that one day, she and another child had to carry her son off of the bus when he wouldn’t wake up. “His body was weak, like a rag doll, and he remained lethargic for days,” Kropp said. She cited a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that suggested high levels of carbon dioxide detected in children wearing masks.
A similar theme ran through the rally at Greenfield-Central and the G-C board meeting.
Dr. Dan Stock, owner of PureHealth Functional Medicine in Noblesville, told the board that masks don’t work to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a claim that contradicts the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments.
Brian Schrank, a father of four who founded the Hancock County Patriots and organized Monday’s rally, told the board “it’s time to unmask our children forever.”
He asked fellow rally goers in the crowd how many, like him, would pull their children from Greenfield-Central schools if a mask mandate were to return, and 20 to 30 people raised their hands.
Superintendent Harold Olin said school leaders had been waiting for the latest input from the CDC, as well as the county and state departments of health, before making a final decision on how to handle COVID-19 guidelines for the coming school year. The CDC said last week that vaccinated students and teachers do not have to wear masks.
The mask mandate for buses will be “non-negotiable,” as is continued contact tracing in the event of positive COVID-19 cases, Olin said.
In that event, quarantining will be required of non-vaccinated students, he said, while those who are vaccinated can continue coming to school.
In sharing his recommendation of a “masks recommended, not required” policy with the board, Olin said he thinks the back-to-school plan will return a degree of normalcy for teachers and students who have endured in-school masks, virtual learning and hybrid schedules for more than a year.
“We will still do deep cleaning in high traffic areas, and we will still encourage social distancing when feasible,” Olin said.
At the SH board meeting, board member Brian McKinney also said the school system would continue to require masks on buses.
Superintendent Lisa Lantrip, in a follow-up email to the Daily Reporter, wrote: “Our school corporation is required to follow all laws and mandates issued by federal, state, and local government agencies.”
“The district’s plan has been created to comply with all current mandates issued by executive order, a federal governmental agency, the Indiana Department of Health, or the Hancock County Health Department,” she said. “These mandates are law and must be followed. We will continue to make adjustments to our plan as these mandates change.”
Kristy Deer, Shelley Swift and Jessica Karins of the Daily Reporter staff contributed to this story.