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RUSSIAVILLE — Western students and staff will no longer have to wear masks, as a previous mask requirement was repealed Tuesday evening.

The board voted unanimously to recommend masks, not require them. The decision, effective today, is based on a decrease of COVID cases among students and staff, as well as a drop off in the number of students being sent home to quarantine.

“We’ve seen a decrease in the number of COVID-positive students and staff, as well as them in quarantine,” said Superintendent Katie Reckard.

The decline started around the first week of September.

There were five student cases last week, and 36 were quarantined. There were no staff cases or quarantines. There were only four student cases in each of the two previous weeks.

Western started the school year mask-optional only to reverse the policy on Sept. 8, citing high case and quarantine numbers. At that time, there had been more COVID cases among students in the first few weeks of school year than Western had in the entire first semester of last year.

The first week of school, there were 33 cases, which jumped to 47 the next week and fell in the third week to 35.

With no mask requirement, previous quarantine rules are back in play. This means if a student is contact traced, regardless of if they are wearing a mask or not, they will be required to isolate for 10 days. This applies to students who were within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes of the student who tested positive.

Students can also return after eight days after testing negative.

With a mask requirement, students do not need quarantine if they are a close contact. That change — which was announced in early September by the Indiana Department of Health — followed a tumultuous start to the school year across the state as hundreds of students were sent home due to a spike in cases and quarantines.

The mask requirement was seen as compromise between mitigating COVID and keeping kids in school. One of the key complaints by some parents at the beginning of the school year was sending asymptomatic students home.

Like with most school board meetings with a COVID agenda item, Tuesday’s was well-attended at Western. All those who offered public comment on masks were in favor of repealing the requirement.

Slightly more than half of parents were in favor of a mask requirement, according to a Western survey conducted prior to the school corporation instituting a mask requirement.

At the time of its adoption, Reckard said the mask requirement would be fluid and depend on case numbers. The superintendent said the mask-optional policy will be treated the same — fluid and subject to change based on the situation.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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