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Parents Express Concerns Over Indian Creek Mask Requirement

A temporary mask mandate drew concerns from parents during Thursday’s Indian Creek school board meeting.

The measure was passed during a previous emergency session and was implemented on Sept. 13 in an effort to maintain low COVID infection numbers. Prior to that, masks had been strongly recommended, but Superintendent T.C. Chappelear notified parents of the change in a one-call and said it was a precaution to keep everyone safe. He said students, staff and visitors are required to wear a face covering inside all district buildings and the policy would be reviewed at the end of the month.

The change didn’t sit well with more than a dozen people who appeared at the meeting at Indian Creek Middle School. Many argued that masks were not effective and parents should have the right to decide whether their children don the coverings.

“The mask doesn’t stop anything or slow the spread,” said parent Kurt Williams, citing some recent studies. “They will not provide protection against COVID-19. I’m not here to tell people to wear or not wear a mask. It’s not political. I understand you want to keep kids and staff safe {but] it is your job to educate.”

Parent Amanda McClements said she cared about children’s health and well-being but did not agree with the mandate.

“COVID isn’t going away. Are you going to make our kids wear masks forever? We get consent forms for everything,” she commented, asking why parents cannot give consent to the masks.

More comments came from Rich Gualtire, who called the mandates unconstitutional and said families should have the freedom of choice. Others who were not on the public participation list spoke out against the measure and board member Dr. Ted Starkey sided with the parents, saying they had the right to voice their opposition and he initially voted against the mandate. Fellow board member Dr. John Figel said he respected people’s decisions and the matter was not political.

“I look at the science of this every day and there are arguments on both sides as to what masks will and will not do,” Figel added. “We did feel that anything we could do to help protect and help maintain our kids in the classroom, we felt it was the right thing to do.”

He added that medical and religious exemptions could be filed with the school buildings students attend. Medical exemptions will be granted with a note from a physician and religious exemptions will be granted by writing a letter to the school of attendance.

Parent Chris Forrester questioned the protocol of who signed off on religious and medical exemption forms, saying he was in support of the district’s move to mask kids.

“I follow the recommendation of the CDC and from Dr. (Anthony) Fauci,” he said. “Our government officials who are epidemiologists recommend masks. I want to protect my kids so they can get through school and can get shots.”

He also shared his thanks with the board for their decision.

Chappelear said officials looked at the rising number of quarantined students and noted that the mandate was temporary and would simply help keep children in school. As of now, there were more positive cases than at the same time last year and 170 students were being quarantined. However, the number in quarantine was stabilizing and officials were keeping a close eye on the situation. He later said the mandate would remain in place and leaders would review matters at the end of the month. Chappelear also thanked everyone for attending and voicing their concerns.

“I appreciate the parents and community members who showed. That’s all part of this process,” he commented. “You have an elected board of education and you have opportunities for the public to weigh in on the decisions of the board. I am happy to hear their concerns.”

Meanwhile, facial coverings must be used on public transportation provided by the district in accordance with CDC guidelines. Officials will continue to utilize a minimum of three feet of spacing in classrooms when possible, clean and disinfect surfaces and classrooms and utilize ventilation

Leaders also approved a series of personnel issues, including the resignation of Sarah Bolen as ICHS Spanish/Italian teacher at the end of the school year. Bolen has also served as the high school foreign language and drama adviser.

Meanwhile, the board corrected a previous agenda to name Bethany Davis as freshman girls basketball coach, plus members approved extra-duty supplemental contracts for Hills After School Physical Activities Director Bobbie Jo Agin, ICHS Band Director Don Llewellyn, ICHS Assistant Band Directors Kent Howell and Kim Howell and Cross Creek OIP Kim Wadas; Before & After School care staff including teachers Hillary Garner, Amy Rusnak and Ruth Rees at Hills and Rachel Antonelli, Dominique Banks, Alex Menke, Mary-Lil Giusto, Hannah Treglia and Marissa Kiddey and substitutes Karen Lloyd and Kristi Sciarra at Cross Creek, as well as classified staff Brenda Hyde of Hills and Christina Keyser of CCE and substitute Linda Scarabino of Hills; and employed Raymond Cooper as a cook/cashier at Hills and classified substitute Trey Jeter as bus driver.

The board approved the resignations of Kenneth Skinner and Raeann Sowers as freshmen girls’ basketball coaches and named them as volunteers; approved the resignation of Ashley Agin as head cook at Hills Elementary but added her to the substitute list; approved the resignation of Holly Parissi as Before and After Care Coordinator at Hills for the current school year; gave supplemental contracts to Mentha Moore as ICHS majorette line instructor, Joe Ribar as ICHS assistant girls’ basketball coach; named Colleen Shepherd as part-time reading teacher at Bishop John King Mussio Elementary for the 2021-22 school year.

Among other matters, the board:

• Heard reports from Indian Creek Education Association President Karen Lloyd, who thanked officials for getting into Cross Creek Elementary and also for the recent approval of the three-year labor agreement with the teacher’s union; OAPSE representative Lori Orban, who said members were glad to be in the new building and cannot wait to get into the new high school; and ICMS Principal Holly Minch-Hick, who reported that five picnic tables were donated to the outdoor classroom and plans were underway for sixth-grade improvement and a speaker to visit the school; and Hills Elementary Principal Michele Minto, who said her students were happy to return to the updated building and thanked the board for their support;

• Approved an agreement with the Jefferson County Educational Service Center for additional special education services at the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities and new services for the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School for the current school year;

• Approved an agreement with Franciscan University of Steubenville to provide clinical education and practice for students in the education degree programs for the 2021-22 school year;

• Approved an agreement with Ohio University Eastern in which Indian Creek will provide experiences and student teaching placements for teaching students during the 2021-22 school year;

• Approved a one-time payment of $500 for district administrators to retain quality administrators, hazard pay and for supplemental duties related to COVID-19, which will be financed with ESSER III funds.

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