Confident in their ability to mitigate the virus, more school districts will not require masks when students return this fall.
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s school mask mandate expires at the end of this month. Starting July 1, decisions about masks will be left up to local school boards.
Masks are required inside school facilities through June 30.
Students will still have to wear masks on school buses, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has required that masks be worn on public transportation.
Eastern Howard School Corporation was the first in the area to announce on June 8 that it would not require masks for the upcoming school year. Masks will be optional and will be left up to parents and students to decide.
Eastern will also not offer a virtual learning option.
Other districts have followed suit.
Northwestern announced June 10, with the school board approving its back-to-school plan, its intention to drop mask requirements, as well as its virtual learning component.
Superintendent Kristen Bilkey said multiple safety measures are in place to reduce spread.
“We feel pretty confident about it,” she said.
The superintendent said the district is encouraging students and staff to get vaccinated. The more of the school population that is vaccinated, the less risk there is of people having to quarantine.
Bilkey said officials are considering offering a vaccine clinic at the school.
“We’re trying to be as proactive as possible to keep kids in school,” she said.
Kokomo schools is offering a $750 stipend to any employee who gets vaccinated before the start of the school year. The school corporation hopes the stipends will encourage more vaccinations and, in turn, limit the number of people who might miss a day due to side effects or contact tracing.
A vaccinated person does not need to quarantine if exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive.
Kokomo schools will continue its virtual learning program next school year and is currently enrolling students.
A decision on masks is expected at a later date.
Western’s school board voted Tuesday morning to follow the state health department’s back-to-school guidance. This means masks will be optional but are recommended for unvaccinated students and staff.
Outgoing Superintendent Randy McCracken said the district saw an uptick in quarantined students following the holiday break last year, but the second half of the school year saw almost none.
Tri-Central will not require masks and will only offer a virtual learning option in medical emergencies.
Superintendent Dave Driggs said 11% percent of students wanted a virtual option at the beginning of last school year, but interest eventually dropped to 4%.
Like Howard County schools that have made masks optional, Driggs said Tri-Central had little to no student-to-student virus spread. Instances of contact tracing and quarantine were usually due to a student being exposed outside of school.
“I think we proved we could have students in school,” Driggs said.
Other school districts have not made a final decision.
Tipton Community School Corporation is expected to make a decision at its next school board meeting on July 6. Taylor Community School Corporation is also expected to decide at its July meeting.
Maconaquah Superintendent James Callane said the school corporation will work with Miami County Health Department and the school board.
Peru Community Schools had not responded as of Monday afternoon.
School officials told the Kokomo Tribune they will monitor virus cases. Protocols could change barring outbreaks or additional guidance from the state government.
This article has been updated to state Kokomo schools is continuing its virtual learning program. A previous version misstated the corporation had not decided on virtual learning.