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Southwestern school system to appeal mask mandate issued by Shelby County Commissioners

Following the Shelby County Commissioners approval of a mask mandate Monday morning, two Shelby County school districts publicly expressed their displeasure with the decision.

Southwestern Consolidated Schools superintendent Curtis Chase sent a letter to families in the school district Thursday and posted the letter to social media stating a plan to request an exemption from the mask mandate.

That will not happen at the next commissioners meeting slated for Monday morning at the Shelby County Annex. Southwestern is not on the agenda confirmed Kevin Nigh, president of the Shelby County Commissioners.

Chase stated in the letter, “We have reached out twice and requested information on the proper way to proceed as we also want this to be an opportunity to model for our students the proper procedure to follow if they are faced with a situation like this in the future they want to appeal.”

 

 

The mask mandate forced students and staff in all four Shelby County school systems – Shelbyville Central Schools, Northwestern Consolidated Schools, Southwestern Schools and Shelby Eastern Schools – to wear masks beginning Tuesday morning while inside buildings where social distancing cannot occur.

Chase stated Southwestern’s COVID-19 statistics as of Sept. 10 were 0.498% of students quarantined with a positive test and another 1.993% quarantined for close contact tracing.

Shelby Eastern Schools superintendent Dr. Todd Hitchcock released a letter Monday stating, “SES has tracked data on our positivity rate since we returned to school in the fall of 2020. To date, the overwhelming majority of our positive cases have been traced back to events not associated with school. While putting all students in a mask may make some feel better because of the extra precautions we are taking, we view it as the equivalent of prescribing a medicine that does not fit the symptom.”

The Public Health Order from the Shelby County Health Department came at a time when Major Health Partners Medical Center in Shelbyville is at full capacity due to a growing rate of COVID-19 cases. The mask mandate was enacted by the Shelby County Commissioners to last until at least Oct. 30, unless it is rescinded earlier.

As for contesting a Public Health Order, the school systems do not appear to have ground to stand on.

“I don’t know of any mechanism to appeal it other than to write a letter and ask,” said attorney Dennis Harrold, who represents both Southwestern and Shelbyville school systems. “I think you can express your concern and say we don’t think our school needs it. Other than that, it’s a situation where everybody has to deal with it. I don’t think there is a mechanism for appeal.”

Harrold added after Shelbyville Central’s school board meeting Wednesday night that he had discussed the situation with the county’s attorney, John DePrez.

“The schools can appeal the decision to the commissioners, and that is where we stand at the moment,” said DePrez Friday morning.

Shelbyville Central Schools board president Gayle Wiley opened the floor for public comment during Wednesday’s meeting but no one stepped forward to speak on the situation.

“The school has no power to change the mask mandate,” she said before allowing public comment. “The mandate is not a recommendation. It is an order from the county board of health and the county commissioners that does have the force of law for Shelby County. This board is committed to following the law.”

Northwestern Consolidated Schools superintendent Chris Hoke released a video message Monday following the ruling where he believed the Triton Central school system was in excellent shape with regard to COVID-19 cases but admitted the Public Health Order has to be followed.

One benefit to putting students back in masks is the relaxed quarantine rules set forth by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.

On Sept. 8, Holcomb issued a new executive order that allows schools to alter quarantine protocols. As long as masks are worn by staff and students, students deemed in close contact do not have to quarantine.

Shelbyville High School only went to masks for all students Tuesday following the mandate. COVID-19 cases and close contract tracing have forced the school to cancel three straight varsity football games due to a lack of available players in the program.

Shelbyville’s athletic department expects the Golden Bears to be back on the playing field for a Sept. 24 home game against Yorktown.

Should a school system go rogue and not require students to wear masks while inside buildings and classrooms, the Shelby County Health Department would decide the process of enforcement, according to DePrez.

Major Health Partners’ latest Incident Command update Friday stated Indiana’s COVID-19 positivity rate has risen to 11.9% while Shelby County is at 12.8%.

MHP Priority Care is seeing approximately 70 urgent care patients per day with most presenting with COVID-like symptoms.

MHP is out of stock of Bamlanivimab and Regeneron, the drugs that were best treatment options in preventing COVID hospitalizations. There is no shipping date for a new supply.

All 40 inpatient beds on the third floor are full, including the Intensive Care Unit. There are 14 critical care patients, nine due to COVID-19.

There have been three COVID-19 related deaths in the last few days.

On Monday at 11 a.m., there will be a special meeting held virtually to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 situation in Shelby County. Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun does not believe there will be a public speaking session within the meeting but it provides an opportunity to hear from MHP as well as city and county officials.

The Zoom link is  https://us06web.zoom.us/j/81640952890

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