November 18, 2021

With COVID-19 vaccines available for kids, schools are making masks optional again


According to the state's vaccine dashboard, more than 40,000 Hoosier children between the ages of five and 11 years old have already received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. - (Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News)

According to the state's vaccine dashboard, more than 40,000 Hoosier children between the ages of five and 11 years old have already received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

(Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News)

Some school corporations are revisiting their mask requirements after newly reported COVID-19 cases have slowed over the past two months. 

New cases have crept up in recent weeks, but school leaders say the benefits of the changes outweigh the risks – especially with vaccines available for children. 

Several schools across Indiana have already adopted mask-optional policies or plan to in the coming weeks. 

Warrick County School Corporation Superintendent Todd Lambert said the updated policy there would trigger changes if case or quarantine numbers get too high, so kids can stay in school.

"We would examine extra precautions, likely including going back to masks – at least for a couple of weeks – because if we go back to masks we go back to those same quarantine rules that are in effect," he said.

READ MORE: Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for kids? Here's what you need to know

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Schools across the state struggled to keep their doors open and kids in classrooms as the school year began with massive numbers of students testing positive or being forced to quarantine. Indiana has seen more student positive cases so far this school year than it did in all of the 2020-2021 school year. 

But according to state guidelines updated shortly after this school year began, schools don't have to quarantine asymptomatic close contacts if everyone is wearing a mask

Lambert said he's hopeful the newly updated policy – and data shared about it with the public – will enhance trust between the district and families. He said it's already boosted morale too, as teachers see more of students' faces – some, for the first time.

Meanwhile other districts, like Northwest Allen County Schools, are getting rid of their mask requirements in December when the semester ends.

Superintendent Chris Himsel said the school board decided to end the requirement at winter break to give families time to get their children vaccinated, after COVID-19 vaccines for children received federal approval and began rolling out in early November. 

"Our winter break is about two weeks, so this basically gives all of our families about three to four weeks to take advantage of the vaccination availability," Himsel said.

Himsel said the school board there doesn't plan or want to bring back a mask requirement, but the school corporation will continue monitoring local COVID-19 data and make any needed changes to keep kids healthy and in school.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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