CROWN POINT — Not 300. Not 400. But 707 students and staff in the Crown Point Community School Corp. were placed in quarantine last week because of exposure to a positive COVID-19 case.
Last week was the second week of school, and 50 students and three staff members tested positive for the virus.
Superintendent Todd Terrill told The Times the Crown Point district wants to keep kids in school, so it is determining which measures would give the best chance of achieving that.
Currently, masks are optional for all students, but at the most recent school board meeting, the trustees and Terrill discussed how adding masks could help lower the quarantine numbers and keep kids in school.
Terrill said if masks were to be added, the district wouldn’t be making a statement specifically on masks. Instead, the masks would be a strategy to keep students in school because the contact tracing parameters would be lowered from 6 feet to 3 feet based on the state's definition of a "close contact" in a school setting.
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No changes were made to the masking policy at last week's meeting, so they remain optional for students to wear, but Terrill said the administration will continue to monitor the data and information to drive any future decisions.
On Monday, the Indiana Department of Health reported over 5,500 new student positive cases and 255 new cases among teachers. Over 1,300 of the student cases were reported on Aug. 23 alone, which is the most reported on a single day in the database that goes back to September 2020.
Forty-two percent of cases are among students ages 15 to 19, over 37% are in students ages 10 to 14 and nearly 20% are coming from students ages 5 to 9.
Parents opt for online
Ed Finn has three children that used to all go to Crown Point schools, but this year the youngest two are going to online school because of the COVID-19 protocols.
His other son is a senior at Crown Point High School and is attending in person because he is vaccinated. He chooses to wear a mask, Finn said, because he doesn’t want to accidentally bring COVID-19 home to his younger, unvaccinated sibling.
Of the nearly 600 students and staff members in quarantine in the Crown Point system, 281 of them are from the high school. Taft Middle School has the second most with 138.
Finn said he is bothered that his younger kids aren’t part of the district anymore because the teachers are great and he thinks the district did a good job regarding COVID-19 last year.
He didn’t agree with everything the school corporation did regarding the pandemic last year, but Finn felt like it was trying and did the best it could. This year he doesn’t feel the same and isn’t sure where the switch came from.
“The loudest voices are the ones who are screaming for no masks,” he said, but he can’t tell if those voices actually make up the majority.
At the July board meeting, Finn spoke during public comment and urged the board to consider universal masking at the elementary level because, to him, it makes sense since the children can’t be vaccinated.
Finn said masking has turned into a political issue, but for him it’s not about politics. If someone feels they’ve been informed and chooses not to wear a mask or get vaccinated, that’s their choice, he said.
But the biggest point for Finn is options for everyone. He doesn’t want to tell anyone how to parent, but he doesn’t want his children put at risk, either.
“This choice doesn’t extend to just the idea of a mask or no mask,” he said. "The choice is about the option to be able to send your kid to a different environment or figure out a way to accommodate their needs.”
The online school his kids attend is not part of Crown Point schools because the district didn’t offer a virtual option this year. While his family has the means to do that, he knows not all families do, so he wants to see options for everyone to keep their children safe however they feel best.
Crown Point emphasized a desire to start this school year as normally as possible, and Finn said he understands that want. COVID fatigue is real, he said, but the alternative is worse.
'Small price to pay'
Rick Fath has a son in fourth grade in Crown Point schools. The 10-year-old mainly did e-learning last year, and since that’s not an option this year, he is doing online school outside of the district until he can be vaccinated.
“If they had the protocols they had last year, I probably would have sent my kid,” Fath said.
He wants his child in school, but feels that the district has lowered all defenses amid the delta variant that is more contagious and might cause more severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fath said he would like masks to come back in schools, but at a minimum there should be an e-learning option. Masks, he said, are not comfortable or convenient, but “a small price to pay” for students to be safely indoors.
Terrill said he understands concerns from parents who want to see mandated masking and from those who want it to remain optional. He said he would hate to see anybody pull their kids from Crown Point schools because he believes it’s a great place to be.
Finding common ground
Micah Pollak is an economist at Indiana University Northwest who analyzes COVID-19 data. He’s also the father of a kindergartner in Crown Point. He said his daughter had fun on her first day of school, and Pollak said he wants in-person learning as much as possible, but he isn't sure in-person schooling can survive the delta variant without masks.
“It’s easy to forget that with vaccinations we’ve protected a huge portion of our population so what we have left is the kids and those that are unvaccinated,” he said.
Pollak said cloth masks aren’t going to eliminate the spread of the virus, but they can be one tool in a “package of protection for the students.”
His daughter said she wore her mask at recess — even though Pollak told her she didn’t have to — because she felt more comfortable with it on.
As a parent, Pollak wants to see kids learning and having a good time. That desire can be the common ground parents on all sides of this issue should reach for, he said.
As a researcher, he said it’s unfair that school boards have been put in this position to make public health decisions. School boards aren’t medical experts, he said, but now they are the ones “the animosity is being aimed at.”
Decisions about masks should be made at a state level, he said.
Pollak said sending his daughter to school this year was a tough choice, and he would feel better about it if everyone was wearing masks.
The next Crown Point school board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 27.