La PORTE — Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and student quarantines have prompted the La Porte Community School Corporation to mandate face coverings for students and staff in all schools.
The La Porte Community Schools Board of Trustees on Monday approved revisions to its COVID-19 Intervention Plan, which includes face coverings being worn in all corporation buildings when social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained.
At the start of the school year, face coverings had been recommended but not required. The new requirement goes in effect on Wednesday.
“It’s face coverings because it could in fact involve what are called gaiters and in some cases, it may be face shields for teachers in certain settings. We’re using that term to identify a range of acceptable face coverings and not specifically masks,” Supt. Mark Francesconi told the board.
The requirement will remain in effect at any time in which the La Porte County COVID-19 Advisory level is yellow, orange or red.
“Unless we’re in the blue, we’re going to have this face covering policy in effect,” Francesconi said.
It will be effective indoors for all buildings in the school corporation.
“It does not extend to extracurricular activities held by the corporation. It would not mean activities outside of the school day because it’s during school hours,” Francesconi said.
In addition to the face covering requirement, the board approved other revisions to the 2021-22 Intervention Plan.
The district will close contact trace all positive COVID-19 cases from students and staff. Parents of students identified as being close contacts will be notified and provided the choice for children to continue in-person instruction as long as they remain asymptomatic.
“What’s different now is that those close contacts, their parents or guardians will be contacted, and they’ll be notified that they are a close contact. They will be given a choice to remain in school or at work as long as they choose and are not symptomatic,” Francesconi said.
The school administration will be monitoring student and staff cases by classroom, school and department. When positive case numbers rise to a level of concern, interventions will be determined on an individual basis.
“There could be a number of things we could do. We could go virtual, require more social distancing; we could require masks at times the rest of the corporation is not doing that. Any number of things could step into play whenever those numbers rose to a level of concern,” Francesconi said.
Additionally, overall school positivity numbers of 5 percent positive cases at a specific snapshot in time will be cause for contacting the La Porte County Health Department and deciding upon necessary interventions.
Francesconi said the corporation’s coronavirus committee reviewed recent guidance from the executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb, and new close contact quarantine guidelines from the Indiana State Department of Health.
They indicate that in a classroom where everyone is wearing a face covering, any close contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals will not need to quarantine. The positive individual will still isolate, and close contacts will monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days while they to attend school.
“This is a significant change from last year and certainly cause for us to review those guidance updates,” Francesconi said.
La Porte County, he said, is currently in the orange advisory level for spread of COVID-19. The percent of positive tests in the county is 10.8 percent for all tests. Should that rate rise to 15 percent, the county would placed in the red category.
“It’s been higher than that before. It was a slight increase overall from what we’re seeing ... Of course, the next step will be the red in the event that we continue to see increases in the spread levels,” he said.
The current total of positive cases the school district has had since the start of the school year is 119, and there are 19 active positive cases as of Monday.
“We’re going to continue to monitor these numbers throughout the school year,” Francesconi said.
Since the start of the school year, there have been 397 students and staff quarantined.
“Those 397 close contacts were identified by our staff at our schools as having been within 6 feet prior to our mask ruling and they were sent home regardless if they had a mask or not. They would be home for a number of days until they tested negative,” Francesconi said.
School board member Shannon Hannon said she appreciated the response from the coronavirus committee.
“Given the executive order that came out, I don’t believe that we were given many options. I do believe this response ensures the most students remain in their desired learning platform, which is hopefully the classroom,” Hannon said.
The primary focus of the Intervention Plan, Francesconi said, is to provide a safe atmosphere and avoid disruptions of the educational process by keeping healthy students in the classroom.
“The vision of anything in that plan has always been to provide, number one, a safe atmosphere for our students and staff and their loved ones,” the superintendent said.
“With that, as well, we want to protect the environment. We’re educators, that’s what we’re all about. We want to make sure the environment is not disrupted.
“Throughout the process as we’ve made decisions ... these things are the lens we have looked through,” he said.