Unmask the Kids protest group attends school board meeting

  Dozens of parents, students and community members attended Monday night’s school board meeting to voice their concerns about the mandatory mask mandate that was approved at a special board meeting on Aug. 6. No public comments were allowed.

   The original intent of the regular school board meeting held on Monday, Aug. 16 was not to discuss the mask mandate, but to touch on corporation business including recognizing student athlete successes and updates on quarantining procedures.  Prior to the meeting, an Unmask the Kids protest was held outside of the school from 5 to 7 p.m. The group of protesters were among those in the auditorium. 

   “I am a student who has been refused to go to school for the last five days. The past five days of school, you have refused me my education because I will not wear a mask,” Kenneth Cloghessy (12) said. “I want to go to school. This is my last year of school that I have, and I want to be here for this school. Your rule is costing me my education.” 

   Despite chants to “Fire Veracco,” Superintendent Dr. Larry Verraco presented data from the CDC and other sources to explain the reasoning behind the board’s Aug. 6 decision. According to the Indiana Department of Health, in the past week, there were 1,452 new COVID-19 cases reported. 

   “Hospitalizations are the highest they have been since February. Child and teen cases up five times since the end of June. Kids now over 20% of all cases. Masking up can help to keep in person instruction going,” Veracco said. 

   Once public comments began, the school board members defended their decision for the corporation with COVID-19 facts and statistics while parents and students refused to be silenced. The board also had to come to the defense of teachers after parents and community members insisted COVID-19 was their fault.

   “That positivity rate, [for] the group of teachers is 15%. Those [students] are the victims, those are the culprits, the teachers, they’re passing it along. The kids aren’t the problem, it wasn’t the janitorial staff, it was the food service staff, it was the teachers’ staff,” Douglas Ziemak, Corporation Bus Driver said. 

   There was no action made about appealing the mask mandate due to a policy that requires the school board to advertise another meeting for others to attend. The next regularly planned meeting will be held on Aug. 30, however there has been discussion about calling an earlier meeting before the scheduled date to make any further decisions regarding the mask mandate. 

   “If we get to a point where I feel red is appropriate, I will support masks. I am not an anti mask. I am okay to mask when I feel that it’s at a very cautious and dangerous level. After listening to you speak tonight and other nights and reading all these emails that Mr. (Howard) Marshall referenced, this is a tough decision to make. It’s not easy,” Janice Malchow, School Board Member, said.