NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Masks will be mandated for all people inside Hamilton Southeastern, Lawrence Township, Carmel Clay and Noblesville schools starting Monday after major COVID-19 outbreaks disrupted learning in at least one of the three Hamilton County school districts.
In two other Hamilton County schools districts — Westfield Washington and Sheridan — the districts’ websites say masks are optional. Masks are highly recommended in the other Hamilton County district, Hamilton Heights Schools based in Arcadia.
In Fishers, parent Bonnie Meier said she’s grateful for the changes. “I was very relieved to find out that they were going to mandate masks.”
Meier has two kids who aren’t yet eligible to get their vaccinations, which is why this new rule was a relief. “It’s been extremely nerve-wracking. I feel like I was sending them to a wolf’s den just hoping that their masks protect them, so it’s been scary.”
Also in Fishers, parent Jill Hutchinson says she also doesn’t have a problem with the mandate. She says it’s a chance to help keep kids inside the classroom. “I am relieved that we’re wearing masks. I’d much rather everyone have the little bit of inconvenience of wearing a mask all day than it would be to have the inconvenience of having all the kids home again.”
Parent Ben Orr, also speaking in Fishers, says he’s not completely happy about the mask mandate. He says it’s a decision best left to the parents. “Setting big global mandates for people takes out the personal choice for so many people.”
Orr says there’s a lack of transparency from the school district. “To have this suddenly then dropped on us at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon after all the school board meetings had finished, after all the meet-the-teacher nights had finished, without any real space for a dialogue or further questions, I think that’s our biggest concern.”
Here are details from the three districts now requiring masks:
The Fishers-based school district has had 80 positive COVID-19 cases with over 500 students listed as close contacts since the start of the school year Aug. 4. The district said masks were optional.
Superintendent Yvonne Stokes announced the changes in a video shared on YouTube. A message from the district based in Fishers said students and staff will be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
“I know this will not make everyone happy, but it is my goal to protect our students and staff and keep our schools open and running,” the superintendent said.
The district will also change its social distancing requirement from 6 feet apart to 3 feet apart since students will now be wearing masks.
Hamilton Southeastern also is changing its quarantine length for unvaccinated students and staff to 10 days off, or seven days off with a negative COVID-19 test within a specific period of the date of exposure.
“Please remember, these changes are what we believe will keep our students learning in-person, in their classrooms, and that is our goal,” the superintendent said.
The Lawrence Township school board agreed Friday to begin a mask mandate to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Classes began in the district in northeastern Marion County on Aug. 4. The board’s voice vote was unanimous.
The district says its goal is to reduce the need to quarantine, disrupt student learning, and negatively impact families’ ability to work.
A message from Lawrence Township Schools said, “COVID-19 data from the opening of school and subsequent quarantines have demonstrated the need for this shift,” but did not provide details.
The special school board meeting was recorded on Vimeo. Some members did not wear masks at the meeting. Three people spoke to the board before its decision.
The district’s leader, Shawn Smith, told the school board the mask mandate “is critical because we need to assure our students are going to be safe and, for me as a school superintendent and educational leader, I need to have my staff safe. I need to make sure that they’re going to be ready to educate our students.”
On Friday, the ninth day of the new school year, 545 students in the Lawrence Township district were quarantined, and 80 students, three teachers, and eight faculty members who don’t work in classrooms have tested positive for COVID-19, Smith said.
A message from Carmel Clay, which began classes for the new year this week, said, “We are witnessing neighboring districts experience a substantial surge in cases and hundreds of students quarantined. We must do everything we can to keep students safe and learning in the classroom.”
Carmel Clay’s message did not say whether the district is experiencing cases of the coronavirus in its buildings.
The mask mandate “will help keep more students learning in the classroom and possibly avoid a mandatory 14-day quarantine.”
The message also said, “We know some oppose mask requirements. However, masks will be required to protect our students and staff and decrease the potential for quarantines.”
Classes began Aug. 3 in the Noblesville district, and masks were optional for students, staff and visitors. The message said cases of the coronavirus are at the peak of what the district experienced in the winter; student absences are at the highest rate ever; and many students are showing up at school with COVID-19 symptoms.
The message also said unvaccinated people are visiting the schools and spreading the coronavirus to unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
“This week we had three major outbreaks that required us to disrupt learning for hundreds of students by quarantining two teams at Noblesville East Middle School and a classroom at White River (Elementary). This was in addition to many other individual quarantines throughout the district,” the district’s message said.
Bandannas are not considered to be acceptable for use as masks, and face shields will only be used by select staff and students in specific, approved situations.
The district also encouraged people to get vaccinated. The district will have an immunization clinic with the Pfizer vaccine from 3-7 p.m. Aug. 25 for students and adults 12 and older. The clinic will be at Noblesville Schools Community Center, 1775 Field Drive. People can sign up online for the clinic.