Keeping kids in school: G-A superintendent will make mask recommendation Sept. 2

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

The goal of the Greencastle-Antrim School District is "to maintain in-person learning ... keeping our buildings open and students in attendance safely."

Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, will recommend a revised health and safety plan with a clearer masking policy based on local COVID-19 numbers at the Sept. 2 school board meeting — unless changes need to be made sooner as cases rise.

Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim School District, showed this slide titled 'Our Goal' at the Aug. 19 school board meeting when she talked about revisiting mask guidelines at the next meeting on Sept. 2.

Masks are optional, but highly recommended under the plan adopted in late July.

Aug. 19 was the first day of school and about 30% of G-A's 3,000 students wore masks, Hanks told the school board at its meeting that night.

At that time, there were 16 reported cases of COVID-19 in the student body, with 41 in quarantine due to close contact. The number of cases rose by one over the weekend, with 47 students quarantined as of Monday morning.

Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim School District, showed this slide about masking at the Aug. 19 school board meeting.

Not masking increases the likelihood schools will have to close, Hanks said.

She acknowledged the strong beliefs in the community, both for and against masking. She said the district must do the greatest good for the greatest number of people to keep the buildings open and students in school.

If masks are required and students don't wear them, the schools must be prepared to send them home with an unexcused absence. This could result in a large number of children not in school.

Hanks noted the district navigated COVID-19 well last year by making short-term decisions and said that will continue, doing "what's best each step of the way."

Different views

Scott Hart has four kids in the district, but said he is on the board for all 3,000 students in the district. He said the board has a chance to make an educated decision concerning masks based on local statistics.

"We are only here to educate the kids," Hart said. "What do you do to keep schools open?"

Board member Shannon Yates said he is not in favor of masks, but is in favor of keeping kids in the buildings as normally as possible.

Shannon Blanchard, board president, said the district does not want to have to go to virtual learning.

This slide showing the Greencastle-Antrim School District's approach to COVID-19 until Sept. 2 is from the presentation at the Aug. 19 school board meeting by Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent.

Becky Grosskreutz, who has two children in the district and is chair of the Franklin County chapter of Moms for Liberty, said if she had to choose, she'd pick "virtual over masks" any day.

She provided a list of comments from a number of children who were asked how they felt being able to go to school without masks.

"I felt really good! I had fun and can breathe better," was the response of a first-grader.

"It was so hard to breathe before. I couldn't stand wearing them outside. It was the worst," said an eighth-grader. "Today, I didn't have to repeat myself constantly, because the teachers could understand what I was saying. I don't get the mask thing. Last year, we had to wear them and our class still got shot down because kids got COVID. So, that tells me they didn't protect us anyway ... it's pointless. I'll be so mad if they make us wear them again."

Another eighth-grader said, "I could actually hear people and see their faces. It was way easier to breath and I don't have a headache."

Grosskreutz said if board members decide to require masks, they should be the ones to tell the children.

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Paola Risser, mother of four and a member of Moms for Liberty and Red, White and Blue Moms, asked if before 2020 anyone masked for the flu, which she said is more deadly for children than COVID-19.

She urged people not to fall for fear tactics, and said it's time to stand up for freedom and rights. She said people are ready to send their kids to charter schools if masks are required.