IPS ends mask mandate as Indiana drops COVID restrictions

A masked elementary-age student works at a desk with a partition around it, with an adult and two students standing in the aisle in the background, and other students at their desks. All are wearing masks.
Indianapolis Public Schools officials cite new guidance from the Indiana Department of Health and falling numbers of COVID cases in their decision to stop mandating masks. (Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action)

Indianapolis Public Schools has become the latest Indiana district to end mandatory masking for students and staff as the state drops COVID protocols for schools.

Masks will be optional — though highly encouraged — beginning Monday. The district will also stop requiring close contacts of those testing positive for COVID to quarantine, in line with new state health guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated masking guidance Friday, requiring masks in schools only if COVID cases and hospitalizations are high.

In a presentation to the IPS board on Thursday, district officials cited new guidance from the Indiana Department of Health and falling numbers of COVID cases for their decision. 

The district has required universal masking since the beginning of the school year, even as other school districts made them optional. 

After reaching a peak of nearly 400 COVID cases among students and staff during the first week of January, IPS reported just 19 cases during the week of Feb. 6-12. 

This mirrors the drop in COVID cases throughout the state. On Jan. 18, Indiana reported a staggering high of over 6,000 COVID cases in schools. By Feb. 7, the state reported 859 cases, and by Feb. 18, just 26 cases — though that number may be revised with updated case counts. 

As a result, the state is winding down its COVID response, and will remove the school dashboard from its website on Monday. It will be replaced with a dashboard on cases for 0-19 year olds. 

Other school districts in Marion County also recently have made masks optional, including Pike Township, Perry Township, Warren Township, Lawrence Township, Wayne Township, Washington Township, Franklin Community Schools, and Beech Grove City Schools.

Masks are still required on school buses per federal guidelines. 

“This decision is being made based on our much improved district and Marion County data,” Warren Superintendent Tim Hanson said in a statement. “While we are hopeful that masks will continue to be optional, we recognize that in the event of another surge, we could reinstate the requirement to maintain the safest possible environment for students and staff.”

Aleksandra Appleton covers Indiana education policy and writes about K-12 schools across the state. Contact her at aappleton@chalkbeat.org.

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