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Northwestern reinstitutes mask wearing, with parental opt-out

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Northwestern schools will require students to wear masks again to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep more students in school.

The Northwestern School Corporation Board of School Trustees held a special meeting Wednesday to evaluate COVID procedures at Northwestern schools. Board members decided to reinforce masks through a 4-1 vote.

“We feel like what we came up with is going to give the best opportunity to achieve our main goal, which is to keep kids in the classroom,” said Northwestern School Board president Ted Merrell.

“We really value the in-person education process. There’s no substitute for that. We can try to do the best we can with virtual or e-learning, but it’s just not as good.”

The change came on the heels of an update from Gov. Eric Holcomb that relaxes quarantine requirements for school students and staff if they wear masks.

Merrell said the school board took all recent changes to heart when deciding on its own requirements. Starting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, students who wear masks will not have to quarantine if they are in contact with someone who tests positive. Students who opt out of wearing a mask will still have to quarantine for 10 days.

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Northwestern had 41 students last week test positive for COVID, and 231 students were quarantined because they were awaiting test results or had been in contact with a student who tested positive. Four teachers tested positive, and two were in quarantine.

There will be ways for parents to opt their students out of the mask requirement. Students who opt out of the policy will still be required to adhere to quarantine if exposed to the virus.

Parent Tyler Stetzel said the mask requirement is the least that should be expected from the school. When reached out to for comment, Tyler wrote, “I would’ve preferred a vaccine mandate like with other vaccines for children as they enter school age, but masks at least get us going in the right direction.”

Stetzel said his son and other unvaccinated family members previously caught COVID, but he and his wife, who were both vaccinated, did not get sick.

Merrell said it was important to the school board to give parents a choice. He still hopes enough students wear masks to reduce the school’s number of children in quarantine.

“We just hope parents will make the right choice, not only for their kids, but for the school district as a whole. The last thing we want to do is go virtual or go to e-learning,” Merrell said. “Nobody wins in that scenario.”