Fairfield schools to remain mask-optional

·5 min read

Sep. 10—GOSHEN — Fairfield school board members Thursday confirmed that the school corporation is not currently planning on instituting a masking requirement for its students and staff in response to a recent executive order issued by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Sarah Elledge, the board's vice president, noted at the start of Thursday's meeting that the school corporation plans to continue operating as mask-optional — at least for the time being — as it continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation in the area.

"We are aware there is a lot of community interest in masking and emotions are running extremely high," Elledge said. "We seek to make sound and rational decisions for what we believe is in the best interest of our students and staff. We are trying our best to deeply consider all aspects, and then make the very best decisions we can for all our students, which we believe is to keep them in school and not disrupt their educational learning opportunities."

The board's confirmation Thursday followed announcements by both the Goshen and Middlebury school systems earlier this week that each would be implementing district-wide masking requirements beginning this week in response to the governor's executive order.

That order, issued Sept. 1, outlines several directives aimed at helping manage the spread of COVID-19 in the state, some of which are directly connected to schools.

Per the order, which is set to expire Sept. 30, schools and day cares that have masking requirements that are consistently followed throughout the day will not have to quarantine students, teachers and staff who are close contacts and aren't showing symptoms of COVID-19.

In announcing his district's decision Wednesday afternoon, Goshen Community School Superintendent Steven Hope noted his belief that the new K-12 masking requirement would protect the 2021-22 school year by keeping students in the classroom and avoiding a return to virtual learning.

Jayson Snyder, superintendent of Middlebury Community Schools, offered a similar sentiment when discussing the Middlebury school board's decision Tuesday night to implement a masking requirement for the district.

In a video posted to YouTube following Tuesday's meeting, Snyder noted that were the school district to remain mask-optional, it would be required under the governor's new executive order to have all unvaccinated students who are identified as close contacts quarantine at home for a minimum of 10 to 14 days, with the understanding that the intentional failure to comply with that order would be considered a Class B misdemeanor, with each day of noncompliance considered a separate offense.

"Currently within our school district, we have hundreds of students and numerous staff members identified as close contacts who, based on our original plan, are attending school wearing a mask," Snyder said. "These new orders no longer allow for that practice."

To view the full executive order, click here.


Also Thursday, Fairfield Superintendent Randy Zimmerly informed the board's members that school leadership will soon be convening an advisory committee in response to the surfacing of a video back in late August of a group of Fairfield high school students unloading racist comments.

The video, which has been shared on numerous social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok, shows six white teens around a cafeteria table, purportedly at Fairfield Jr./Sr. High School. Of them, four make explicitly racist statements or use slurs. A fifth student appears to use a profane street slang aimed at police, while a sixth shakes his head and tells the camera he's not racist.

When initially responding to the video back in August, Zimmerly said he intended for a broader and interactive discussion to be held at a later date as a way to help address the content of the video and how it affects the community.

"I did want to report to you that we have had some people within our own organization here, people from local law enforcement, I've reached out to people from local universities, and have had favorable response to individuals who are willing to participate along with myself as we put together that advisory group," Zimmerly told the board Thursday. "So, we are, again, being diligent. We want to do this right. We don't want this to be a 'check the box, yes we did it and move on' kind of thing. We want this to be a sort of deep dive into what we're doing."

In addition, Zimmerly noted that Jason Grasty, principal of Fairfield Jr./Sr. High School, has also been working at the high school to put together a staff-led group in response to the video.

"Using the term 'impact', the purpose of that group, which will also extend into our student leadership, is to work to assess the impact that the incident itself had on our own students and morale, and then also to look at ways that we can make an impact on the school culture moving forward," Zimmerly said. "So, there are a few things happening with that, and I wanted to let you know that we do feel like there is a depth to the issue that we want to work on.

"As those groups move forward, we would anticipate that we would be giving reports to you," he added of the plans. "It is possible at some point we will actually come to you and ask you to implement some policies and some other things like that that would maybe enhance some of those ideas that those groups come up with."

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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