Starting Monday, masks will be optional for students at Greater Clark County Schools (GCCS) and the New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corporation (NAFCS).
The school districts will also stop contact tracing, and students and staff will have to quarantine only if they’ve tested positive for COVID-19.
The changes follow new Indiana Department of Health guidance issued Thursday. The positivity rate statewide is now around 12%, down from over 33% a month ago.
Both school districts have had mask mandates in place since very early in the school year, as cases quickly surged from the delta strain.
And while health officials say masking has helped prevent spread of the virus in schools, some administrators know it’s not ideal for student social interaction and development.
“That gets muted a little bit with masks,” Steve Griffin, assistant superintendent at NAFCS, said. “That mask has been somewhat of a hindrance. It’s not a perfect situation.”
Field trips and parent visits will also return at NAFCS next week.
“Our anticipation, our hope as we keep our fingers crossed [is] that we have gotten over the hump and we can have some normalcy in our classroom and our schools moving forward,” Griffin said, adding that students have been great at adhering to COVID requirements.
Masks will still be required on school buses, under federal transportation rules.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said he and the health department have worked closely with GCCS and other schools in Clark County throughout the pandemic.
“It’s a big change,” Yazel said of the recent updates. “It’s one of the bigger shifts that we’ve had during COVID.”
He said he understands this is likely a scary update for parents of medically fragile students.
“But we have [many] more modalities out there to protect our vulnerable kids than we used to,” he said.
Yazel says the move could be a signal of a return to normalcy.
“We need to start having these discussions of how we transition from pandemic to just more everyday life and making this more of a … manageable situation,” Yazel said. “And this is a step toward that.”
The Indiana Department of Health reported Friday 1,527 new daily COVID-19 cases – much lower than the more than 17,000 daily cases reported on multiple days in January. Clark County had 45 new cases and Floyd County, 35.