After much debate and hours of input from the public, the Lake County School Board voted unanimously Sept. 9 to require masks in schools where 5% or more of students and staff test positive for COVID-19. Parents who do not want their children to wear a mask would be allowed to opt out of the requirement.
Superintendent Diane Kornegay called the amendment to the district’s safety protocols “a risk-based, data-driven system that allows for a targeted, rather than a sweeping, approach.”
On the last school day of each week, starting Sept. 10, data will be compiled from the current and previous weeks’ reports of positive cases.
Any school where fewer than 3% of the school population tests positive will be categorized as “Green.” The district will continue to encourage students and staff at these schools to wear a mask and follow all other precautions to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Schools where 3-4.99% percent of students and staff test positive will be identified as “Yellow.” Cases in these schools will be closely monitored, cleaning protocols will be increased, the use of desk shields in classrooms will be encouraged, and the district will continue to strongly encourage masks.
Schools where 5% or more of the school population test positive will be classified as “Red.” Students, parents and staff will be notified and informed that masks will be required when everyone returns to school on Monday. Masks are to be worn indoors and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status, unless the parent has opted out of the requirement, which can be done online by checking the appropriate box in the student’s Skyward account or by sending a note to the school.
Schools will stay “Red” until their percent of staff and students testing positive for COVID-19 drops below 5 percent and those rates are maintained for a period of 14 calendar days. The “Red” school will then move to “Yellow” or “Green.”
“This will meet people in the middle,” board vice-chairman Stephanie Luke said. “It provides preventative measures when we see that there is more risk involved.”
After hearing public comments for more than an hour at Thursday’s special meeting, board members discussed the superintendent’s proposed amendment. Board member Dr. Kristi Burns expressed her concerns that the measure didn’t go far enough, but in the end voted in favor of the amendment, saying it was the best that this board could do.
“I’ve heard plenty from all the gallery,” Burns said during the discussion, motioning toward the audience, “and so much is misinformation. And that makes me very sad, and I’m sorry that people will not listen to our doctors.” She later added that was not a parental rights issue. “This is a public health issue.”
Board chairman Bill Mathias repeatedly asked audience members to remain quiet, as several people shouted their objections to comments made by Dr. Burns. He also defended the amendment to criticism from Dr. Burns.
“I would submit to you that us identifying the green, yellow and red is taking action,” Mathias said in directly addressing Dr. Burns. “We are saying we will put mask mandates in, but we are still going to preserve the parents right to opt out. What is wrong with that?”
Dr. Burns shot back with a reply.
“What’s wrong with that is that masks are a preventative measure. What we are doing is trying to put a band-aid on an open wound, on a bleeder.”
Board members thanked the public, school board staff and many others for their help and input during the process.
“Whether you agree or disagree, we are very happy to have had your presence and been able to hear your voices,” board member Mollie Cunningham said. “Please know that we’re all committed to doing the very best that we can do.”