The Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees voted 3-0 at its June 28 meeting to approve a COVID-19 Reopening Plan for the 2021-22 school year, although administrators expect the plan will be modified before students return to the classroom based on updated guidance from health officials. According to the plan, all students will return to in-person learning five days a week.
CCS was open for optional in-person learning for the entire 2020-21 school year, but CCS Supt. Michael Beresford said a vote on the reopening plan ensures the district remains eligible for federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III funds, which are part of the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March. CCS is expecting to receive $2.2 million in these funds to help cover COVID-19-related costs. This is in addition to approximately $1.1 million in federal relief funds already allocated to the district.
The school board vote came soon after several parents asked the board during the public comment portion of the meeting to make face masks optional for all students in the coming school year. The reopening plan recommends unvaccinated students and teachers wear face coverings, per guidance from state and county medical officials.
CCS parent Natalie Evers told the board her family has had to hire a speech therapist because her elementary-age son didn’t make progress with the school’s therapist, as both of them were required to wear face masks during their sessions.
Evers also said masks make it difficult for students to connect with each other and make friends, which could pose an even bigger problem in the fall when many students are at new schools because of redistricting.
“I am so angry as a parent, because I want my kids to have relationships with people, and you cannot build relationships with masks on,” Evers said. “You cannot see a smile. You cannot see an impression.”
Beresford said CCS officials have also received feedback from parents who want masks required in the fall, although none spoke at the June 28 meeting.
Beresford said the reopening plan was crafted using information from the Indiana State Dept. of Health, the Hamilton County Health Dept. and other medical professionals. He said some of the requirements, such as a federal mandate for masks to be worn on school buses, have conflicted with guidance from other entities.
“There’s a lot of inconsistency with the guidance we’re getting,” Beresford said, adding after the meeting that elements of the reopening plan are “set in Jello” rather than set in stone at this point.
Beresford said he expects CCS will have the reopening plan finalized by mid-July. Other districts, such as Westfield Washington Schools, have already announced that students won’t be required to wear masks in the fall, but Beresford said he believes it’s wise for CCS officials to wait to make a final decision to minimize the chance of having to reverse it.
The district has received more than 400 comments submitted online so far about the reopening plan, which can be viewed at ccs.k12.in.us/about/covid19-information.