Shelbyville Central Schools students will continue to wear masks during school hours until April 11.
The previous mask mandate was slated to end today with students having the option to not wear a mask beginning Thursday.
Inclement weather has forced Thursday to be an eLearning day for all Shelbyville students. Masks will still be required by all personnel in the system's six school buildings on Friday, if school is in session, and running through April 8.
Superintendent Mary Harper cited the high positivity rate in Shelby County and the desire to keep students in the classroom for asking the Shelbyville Central Schools board to extend the mandate into April.
"I wish more than anything we could do away with the mask mandate but the Indiana State Health Department almost has you tied by saying if you don't want to send kids home, then you have to be mask mandatory," said Harper after the special board meeting Wednesday night. "We are required by law. This school board cannot vote and override what the Indiana State Health Department is requiring in control measures. I know some districts do that and it's real confusing but as far as Shelbyville Central, we are going to comply with that to the best of our ability."
As long as students are in masks during normal school hours, those deemed close contacts to someone with a positive COVID-19 test do not have to be sent home for quarantine as long as they remain healthy. That has helped the school system limit the number of students not in attendance daily.
Since the holiday break, the school system has reported more than 425 COVID-19 cases within the school district.
The motion to continue the mask mandate was approved 6-1.
Dr. James Rees voted against extending the mandate citing the previously released policy that was set to go into effect Thursday that would allow buildings to be mask optional as long as less than 2% of staff and students in each respective building were not in attendance.
If a building had more than 2% absent, a mask mandate would kick in for a short period until the absentee rate declined back under 2%.
"If we have a measuring device that is flexible enough that can adapt a week at a time, why are we picking an arbitrary date in April?," asked Rees. "Why can't we just go with the measuring device and allow some flexibility to respond to the situation as it really is rather than some dreamt up timeframe?"
Harper stated all six buildings have had absentee rates at 2% or higher since the holiday break.
"Everybody talks about doing the science, well April 8 is an arbitrary line in the sand and has nothing to do with what may actually happen," said Reed. "This may precipitously drop off. And we still have the right to change it no matter what, but it seems to me we can quit having these discussions monthly by saying this is the standard we are going to go by.
"Let's go with something that is actually measuring what is happening and responding to that rather than just picking a date. It seems to me we have a measuring stick, let's use the measuring stick."
Also on Wednesday, the school board enacted a new mask mandate policy to give directors of extracurricular activities such as coaches, music teachers and drama instructors the right to require masks at practices and rehearsals.
The sponsor of an elementary drama program asked if masks could be required at rehearsals, according to Harper. The school system currently does not require masks at extracurricular activities, so an instructor/coach could not require masks be worn.
After some discussion, the board unanimously approved the motion to allow enforcement of masks at extracurricular events by instructors. If a student does not comply with the requirement, he or she will not be allowed to participate.
"What this does is give discretion to someone in an extracurricular activity to mandate masks at practices and rehearsals, not at performances, competitions, nothing involving the public, but then they have to communicate that to their students and parents, and they need to enforce it," said Harper. "We have so many clubs and athletic events, it would be impossible for administrators to determine which (events) are optional masks and which are mandatory masks."
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 16.