NED passes facial covering policy


DUBOIS — When students and staff return to Northeast Dubois schools next month, they’ll do so wearing a facial covering.

The Northeast Dubois School Board passed a mask policy at its meeting Tuesday that requires students and staff to wear facial coverings at times when social distancing cannot be achieved, including on buses, during passing periods and in common spaces. The policy defines facial covering as “a reusable cloth mask, disposable mask, school-approved clear face shield, N95 mask, gaiter or any other device that covers the nose and mouth.”

The board unanimously passed the policy after more than an hour of discussion during which board members worked to create a policy all five felt comfortable enacting.

Tuesday evening’s discussion was a continuation of discussions that began at the July 14 special meeting where the board approved the countywide reopening framework that the county’s four school corporations — Greater Jasper, Northeast Dubois, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — developed together. The framework strongly recommends masks and gives each school corporation the ability to require them at the discretion of administrators.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we’d all rather not wear masks,” Board President Mary Pankey said. “They’re uncomfortable. But we’re trying to save lives and keep kids in school.”

At the July 14 meeting, the board was split on whether or not to require masks at all, with some members arguing for wearing them at all times and others arguing for not wearing them at all.

“I’m still at [not at all], but I’m willing to compromise,” board member Kelly Knies said.

A major discussion topic Tuesday was whether or not to require teachers and staff to wear facial coverings at all times. The draft of the policy required teachers and staff to wear facial coverings any time they were inside, but students did not have to wear them in classrooms unless the teacher chose to require it. That was a sticking point for board members Kelly Knies and Brennan Schepers who didn’t think teachers should be required to wear facial coverings in their classrooms if students wouldn’t be.

“I think this whole thing boils down to respect,” Knies said.

If a teacher requires masks in their classroom, students should respect that, Knies said. And if a student wants to wear a mask in a classroom where the teacher isn’t requiring it, the teacher should respect that, too.

Knies also worried that if the board required teachers to wear masks at all times during the day, teachers who disagreed with the policy would seek other employment.

The discussion briefly touched on research about the efficacy of facial coverings. Pankey explained that the idea behind the masks is to stop respiratory droplets that escape when people breath or speak. She acknowledged that the virus itself is too small to be stopped by a mask, but said it is carried in the droplets, which can be stopped by a facial covering.

Knies was less convinced and pointed out that there are studies that say facial coverings work and studies that say they don’t.

“I don’t know who to believe, and I don’t think anyone does,” he said.

During the public comments portion of the board meeting, three teachers shared thoughts on a mask requirement. Melissa Sinnott-Fleck said she believes it should be an individual choice whether or not to wear a facial covering and that her children’s pediatrician recently told her family not to worry about going back to school. Beth Neukam shared concerns about other diseases spreading more rapidly if germs get caught in the masks and are inhaled until the mask is changed or cleaned.

Amy Mitchell, who is the president of the Northeast Dubois Classroom Teachers Association, shared the results of a survey she sent to the corporation’s 56 teachers. Mitchell said 48 teachers responded and were split almost 50/50 on whether or not they felt safe returning to school if masks were not required. The survey also asked if teachers planned to require masks in their classrooms, and 59% of respondents said they would.

The final policy will require staff and students to wear masks on school buses, when entering the buildings in the morning, when in transit within the building, when exiting the building at the end of the day and inside any non-classroom shared spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms. If a teacher requires facial coverings in his or her classroom, students will be required to comply.

The full policy will be available for view on the corporation’s website,, and will be reviewed monthly at the regular school board meetings, which take place at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at the corporation office, 5379 E. Main St., Dubois.

The board also:

Approved handbooks for Northeast Dubois Elementary School, Northeast Dubois Intermediate School and Northeast Dubois Junior-Senior High School.

Approved the timeline for the 2021 budget season and heard a summary of the proposed budget. The proposed budget includes property tax levies of: $2,690,843 for the operations fund; $548,658 for the referendum fund; $813,873 for the debt service fund; $299,904 for the pension debt fund; and $176,135 for the rainy day fund. The school is unlikely to receive the total proposed amount, but the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance instructs superintendents to budget at the maximum possible so that corporations receive sufficient funds by the time the budget process with the state’s funding formula is complete. The board will hold a budget hearing at its August meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the corporation office.

Held a public hearing on amendments to the lease agreement with the building corporation that the school is utilizing to fund construction at the junior-senior high school to remodel the building to accommodate seventh through 12th grades. School corporations use a building corporation to take out bonds for construction projects. The building corporation takes ownership of the building or section of building to be constructed and holds the bonds that fund the project. The school corporation leases the building from the building corporation and the lease payments are used to pay the bond. Once the bonds are paid off, ownership of the property reverts to the school corporation. Northeast Dubois is currently using a building corporation for phase one of the renovations at the junior-senior high school, and the lease will be amended to accommodate phase two of the renovations.

Approved several resolutions to prepare to go to bid for phase two of renovations to the junior-senior high school. The resolutions were: approval of an amendment to the lease agreement with the building corporation; approval of additional appropriations for bond funds received for the construction project; determination of the need for the project; approval to assign construction bids to the building corporation; and authorization to enter into a First Supplement to Master Continuing Disclosure Undertaking as required by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Approved board policy updates from NEOLA Inc. an independent organization that recommends policy and bylaw updates for member school boards.

Approved the retirement of high school English teacher Roger Elliott and the resignations of custodian Harold Hall and instructional assistant Amanda Fuhrman.
Hired high school English teacher Kate Conway.

Approved a plan to provide grab-and-go meals to families who sign up in the event of a school closure due to COVID-19 during the 2020-21 school year.

Heard an update on phase one of the renovations at the junior-senior high school from Clerk of the Works Gary Bair. The classrooms will be complete in time for the first day of school on Aug. 12, but work will continue in other areas of the building after students return.

Heard that the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 will take place on Saturday. Each student received two tickets for the ceremony, which will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend.

Heard a presentation on JeepSpark, a mentorship program several staff members have been working to develop. The program will match high school juniors and seniors with a younger mentee. Eventually, the program will also match students with adult mentors from the community.

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