Speakers ask school board to let parents decide on masks for children

Jenny Hansen, on the far right, addresses the Porter County Board of Education on Nov. 2 about the need to increase the salaries of special education teachers in the co-op. CHESTERTON TRIBUNE FILE / photo

On December 6, a number of speakers called on the Duneland School Board to change the district’s mandatory mask policy, giving parents the flexibility to decide for their children.

Since September, the Duneland School Corporation has required students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings and on school buses. Students are allowed to remove their face coverings outside or in the cafeteria.

Board member Ronald Stone said he understood the community’s “fatigue” with mask warrants the district must follow state-set quarantine guidelines.

In recent weeks, the district has seen a slight increase in COVID-19 cases with an average of 5 to 7 new cases per day, the highest since the start of the pandemic. Stone said without the mask warrant, that would mean 400 to 500 students would have to be quarantined.

“We understand that there is a part of our community that is very much against wearing masks. We are also not in favor of wearing masks. Please know that we will revert to the optional mask as soon as we feel we have a realistic chance for students to stay in school and out of quarantine, while respecting state or local mandates, ”Stone said.

But a handful of speakers noted that the mask policy had been in place for almost two years. One commenter pointed out that masks are optional in other Northwest Indiana school districts such as Boone Grove, Crown Point, Wheeler and Kouts.

Chesterton’s Angela McManagal said having a mask tenure in place for so long has a negative psychological impact on children.

“You have to have the moral courage and let the children and parents decide for themselves… You have to stand up for these children,” said McManagal, who drew applause from the audience.

Dave Hyska from Chesterton said the percentage of college students who contracted COVID-19 is around 0.007% of college students and most children experience it like a cold.

“It’s not going to stop until you get up,” Hyska said.

Valerie Adams of Liberty Township said she “hated masks from the start”. Adams said her son already had breathing problems and wearing a mask caused him to suffer from headaches.

At one point, Adams asked why the school board couldn’t change the policy to let parents decide.

Stone said the school board must follow policy established by the Indiana State Department of Health and the Indiana governor’s office.

Chesterton’s Deanne Manojlovic also called on the Board of Education to “do the right thing” and let parents decide whether their children should wear masks.

Manojlovic also aimed at council policy that anyone wishing to speak at a council meeting must seek permission seven days in advance.

“Seven days in advance is not acceptable,” Manojlovic said, noting that there had to be more give and take.

Superintendent Chip Pettit said he appreciated the public’s comments and that there was agreement on many points.

In other cases, Jenny Hansen of Chesterton has spoken of the need to address the pay gap for special education teachers versus general education teachers.

Hansen noted that special education teachers with 10 years of experience earn $ 43,000, which is less than the starting salary of $ 49,000 per year for a teacher at Duneland School.

“This exceptional staff in your buildings serving students with all disabilities and complex medical conditions, arguably the students with the highest needs, receive the lowest salaries,” said Hansen.

Salaries for special education teachers are paid by Porter County Education Services. The county provides special education teachers for Duneland and six other Porter County school districts.

Hansen has called on the school board to take a number of steps, including paying a retention bonus for those serving in the District of Duneland to close the pay gap.

Pettit said he agreed with Hansen that something needs to be done to improve the remuneration of special education teachers.

The school board also has:

* Approved wage increases of 75 cents per hour for classified employees without benefits.

* Approved schedule for the school year 2022-2023. School will start on August 10, 2022 and the last day will be May 25, 2023.

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