Editor's Note: This story is part of The Partnership Project, a series of content written in an effort by The Daily News to follow the formal collaboration of Ball State University and Muncie Community Schools. Read more in this series here.
At a special board meeting Aug. 3, the Muncie Community Schools (MCS) Board of Trustees unveiled its reopening plan for the 2021-22 school year, which includes requiring face masks for all students, staff, volunteers and visitors regardless of their vaccination status.
The first day of school at MCS is Aug. 10. Face masks will also be required on school buses. The school board cited new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Indiana State Department of Health and consultations with Indiana University Ball Memorial Hospital when announcing its decision to unveil the district’s reopening plan.
“Unfortunately, the significant local spike in cases over the past few weeks has forced us to mandate masks in order to offer the safest learning environment possible for our students and staff,” MCS School Board President James Williams said in an Aug. 3 press release. “Reliable evidence from our health providers both locally and statewide illustrate the danger to our children, including those under the age of 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination. While we fully understand the inconvenience and other issues that go along with mask wearing, this is the safest course of action for our district at this time."
Williams said the policy mandating face masks may be revisited and updated depending on local vaccination rates.
Other features of the district's reopening plan include water fountains and touchless water stations available in all buildings, limited locker access in the secondary schools and social distancing required in large gathering areas like the auditorium or cafeteria.
Parents are expected to continue to monitor their students’ health and keep them home if they show COVID-19 symptoms like fevers, a persistent dry cough or severe headaches. If a student or staff member experiences symptoms that are not believed to be COVID-related, they may return to school without following the normal quarantine protocols, especially if they have been fully vaccinated.
“Our procedures have been developed with guidance from county and state health officials, and we’re happy to see they’ve determined that vaccinated people are at extremely low risk for contracting and passing on the virus,” MCS Director of Public Education and CEO Lee Ann Kwiatkowski said in the Aug. 3 press release. “We want our students and teachers in school as much as possible.”
The press release said less than 100 students have signed up for MCS' Virtual Learning Program, which taught more than 1,300 students last school year.
“Virtual learning has its place and we’re pleased to be able to continue to offer that, but in-person instruction is clearly the best option to achieve success for the majority of our students,” Kwiatkowski said.