Vaccinated staff and students can go mask free when school starts, Indianapolis district says

A sign that reads: Facial expressions with a mask on, posted on a wall outside a classroom, where a male is seen standing and wearing a mask.
Indianapolis Public Schools district is allowing staff and students to opt out of wearing masks this upcoming school year, according to new district guidance. (Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)

Indianapolis Public Schools students and staff who are vaccinated do not have to wear masks in classrooms when school starts, according to new district guidance.

Unvaccinated students will be required to wear masks at school, and the district recommends that staff continue to wear masks around unvaccinated students, especially children under 12 who are currently not eligible for the vaccine. Students are still expected to practice 3 feet of social distancing whenever possible in classrooms, cafeterias, and on buses.

District officials said in a letter to employees that while they are not requiring all employees to be vaccinated, they must prove they are vaccinated to go without masks. 

IPS’ COVID guidance comes as state health authorities and school districts nationwide release their own plans for safely bringing students back to school in person a year and a half after the onset of the pandemic. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease and Prevention recommended that young students continue to wear masks, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that everyone over the age of 2 continue to wear them in school to create more layers of protection.

Vaccinated students and staff who don’t want to wear a mask can voluntarily submit proof of their vaccination status.

As of today, nearly 3 million individuals are fully vaccinated in Indiana. According to The New York Times, 54.6% of adults 18 and older are fully vaccinated in Indiana, compared to 59.6% of adults in the nation. In Marion County, 410,734 individuals are fully vaccinated, according to the state. Only 2.7% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Indiana are fully vaccinated. 

Indianapolis Public Schools officials said they will be still tracking COVID-19 cases in schools on their website and will let families and staff know about any exposures on their campuses. Students who have to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure will be expected to complete schoolwork electronically on a learning platform called Schoology while away from the school building. 

While vaccinated students don’t have to wear masks inside classrooms, everyone will have to wear masks on IPS buses because of a federal Transportation Security Administration order

But during outdoor physical education classes and recess, students and staff can go mask-free, vaccinated or not, as long as they are maintaining social distance. 

Athletes are also not required to wear masks during practices and games. Students in band, orchestra and choir can practice and perform, but they cannot rehearse for more than 45 minutes and must be socially distanced. 

Some parents, such as Center for Inquiry 70 Parent Karen McAleavey, aren’t too happy about the school district’s guidance. 

McAleavey was extremely disappointed that officials weren’t implementing universal masking for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Her eighth grader is vaccinated, but her sixth grader, who attends the same school, is not eligible to be vaccinated because she is underage. She has kept her children learning remotely throughout the pandemic because she’s worried about her family’s safety. 

“For IPS to come out the day after the American Academy of Pediatrics released that guidance, and to have chosen something that’s in contradiction to that guidance, to me just feels shortsighted and it feels like they’re not following the science,” McAleavey said. “It makes me nervous to send my unvaccinated child back to school in the fall.” 

She’s also concerned that teachers won’t be able to determine and manage students with various vaccination statuses. 

Even though her son, 13-year-old Max McAleavey is vaccinated, he is nervous about starting the school year in person for the first time since March 2020. 

“It’s nerve-wracking,” Max said. “It’s kind of scary to think about because I can still get it as a vaccinated individual. I hate to pass it on to my family. COVID is still very much real.” 

The school district is still operating vaccination clinics for students 12 and older. 

School for IPS students starts on August 2.

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