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SH schools to develop exit strategy for masking up

SH schools to develop exit strategy for masking up SH schools to develop exit strategy for masking up
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of the South Harrison Community School Corp., is “seeking out” an exit strategy for requiring students and staff to mask up inside school buildings.

At last Tuesday evening’s school board meeting, Eastridge noted that, while the county and school COVID-19 numbers are trending much better than in previous weeks, there is no plan set in place or suggested to school corporations as to how they will move forward.

“My intention is not to mask up forever,” Eastridge told the board and nearly 50 parents attending the meeting.

He shared that his intent is to present a plan to the board at its next meeting, set for Tuesday, Oct. 19, at 5:30 p.m., that will detail requirements for the schools in order to go into an optional masking phase. Those requirements include, at the time, the South Harrison COVID positivity rate dropping below a 0.5%, Harrison County moving into a blue or yellow category as classified by the state and revoked mandates that are currently in place set by Gov. Eric Holcomb for Indiana.

Those mandates are set to be updated on Nov. 1, after which Eastridge said he will be able to evaluate further what the next steps for the corporation will be.

“I am not asking the board to take action on this tonight,” he said. “I am hesitant about going against executive orders, so we will see where things fall after new guidelines have been issued soon.”

Eastridge said he will have the board approve any further guidelines or mandates at a future meeting in regard to masking regulations but that, as of now, students will remain masked up. There are, however, times when students are able to remove their masks, including if they are not in close contact with others or are outside to receive a break from the covering.

“We are doing our best to take care of nearly 3,000 kids,” board president Mary Mathes said to the attendees. “We want to keep them safe as best we can.”

Parents who opposed the current mask mandates were in attendance at the meeting, with numerous people speaking to the board to voice their concerns. One parent expressed that he believed his child was being bullied by other students for not wearing a mask, while another shared that her son was severely depressed due to the enforcement of masks.

Tony Myers, a community member and parent, said he was contacted regarding school corporation concerns by numerous parents and students after sharing that he would be speaking at the meeting that night. One thing he said that was brought to his attention was the term “bullying.”

“We talk a lot about bullying from other students, but the rules should be the same for teachers as well,” Myers said. “Teachers are bullying students into wearing masks by punishing them if they are caught without them. Several of the teachers in the buildings, however, aren’t following the rules themselves.”

However, Eastridge said at a later date that he did not deem these concerns as bullying.

“I don’t see it as bullying being asked to wear masks,” he said. “These are requests by our staff that are similar to the same way they tell students they need to remain in their seats during class or things of that nature. I don’t know where parents are getting the term bullying from in regards to that.”

Myers also shared during the meeting that a photo was shared with him that showcased posters in a high school classroom with phrases on them such as “Black Trans Lives Matter” and “Dismantle ICE.”

Allison Schalk, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for secondary schools at South Harrison, shared that the day after the meeting she walked every hall and inspected every classroom for these posters and did not find any of that nature.

Eastridge and Schalk shared that upon further evaluation these posters were from 2019 and were placed in a classroom during a meeting of South Harrison’s gay straight alliance club and were taken down after the meeting.

“We, at South Harrison, are a big school corporation, but there is room for every child and we will seek to respect someone regardless of their beliefs and will do our best to respect them fully,” Eastridge said.

In other business at last week’s meeting, Carolyn Wallace, director of business operations for the school corporation, presented the 2022 budget, capital projects plan and the bus replacement plan for South Harrison during a public hearing portion of the meeting.

The corporation is advertising the education fund at $24.8 million, the operation fund at $9.9 million and the debt services fund at $4.3 million. She also shared that the corporation will be looking to replace three buses in 2022 as a part of the replacement plan.

The board will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to adopt the budget and the next regular meeting will be Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. at the corporation office.