Aug. 24—GOSHEN — A small group of about 10 concerned community members showed up to Monday's Goshen school board meeting to speak out against the district's recent decision to issue a temporary mask requirement for all students in grades K-6 effective Monday.
Goshen Community Schools officials announced the temporary mask requirement Friday, noting that the decision was made following a review of local pandemic conditions.
According to the announcement, the mask requirement is being implemented in order to "protect the school year and in-person learning," and "for the safety of our youngest and most vulnerable students who cannot be vaccinated."
The announcement goes on to note that Elkhart County is currently experiencing a rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and is nearing the orange category under the state's color-coded county metric map, indicating high community spread of the virus.
Per the directive, all students, staff and visitors at Chamberlain, Chandler, Model, Parkside, Prairie View, Waterford and West Goshen elementary schools and the Goshen Intermediate School are now required to wear masks as of Monday.
"We did not make this decision lightly," the release notes. "We will evaluate pandemic conditions weekly, and make decisions based on the recommendations of the local, state and federal public health officials."
Among those to speak out against the mask mandate Monday was Goshen resident Janet Waldusky.
"There's a bigger agenda here than what you guys are about, and I'm curious how much research you have done," Waldusky told the board. "I trust that you will listen, because you work for us, and you do not work for the superintendent. You work for us, and for our children, and I thank you very much for remembering that, and for taking everything into consideration that we're trying to educate you about, in case you don't know."
Some who spoke said they felt masks were ineffective at reducing the spread of COVID, while others argued that mask-wearing does more harm than good, referencing things such as restricted breathing, anxiety, and even equating mask-wearing to a form of child abuse.
Also speaking out against the mandate Monday was Goshen resident Phillip Crawford, who said he felt parents should be the ones to decide whether or not their children are required to wear masks at school.
"Parents have the right to choose what's best for their children, and I would challenge you as a school board to keep that in mind," Crawford said. "We should not mandate masks for all. It should be optional. If parents want to mask their kids, that is fine. They have the right to do so. But if parents do not want their kids masked, and muzzled, and suffocated for hours at a time during the day, they have that right."
Though fewer in number, not all those who chose to speak before the board Monday were against the mask mandate.
One such speaker was local physician Rod Kaufman, who said he sees the district's mask mandate and encouragement of vaccinations as an attempt to protect the students, not oppress them.
"I have not told my staff that they have to get the COVID vaccine, but they all have, because they care about people," Kaufman said. "I would ask you as a board to care enough about our kids to protect them.
"It breaks my heart when we have things that help us, we have tools to help us get past a pandemic, and we're not using them," he added. "Unfortunately, it's become political."
A TOUGH DECISION
At the close of Monday's discussion, GCS Superintendent Steven Hope ensured those in attendance that the decision to mandate masking in grades K-6 was not made lightly.
"This mask decision was a tough decision," Hope said, noting that he was grateful to all those who chose to attend the meeting to express their views and concerns, regardless of which side they fall on the issue. "We just want to air on the side of saving our school year for our students.
"Let's just all continue together, and do the best thing," he added. "Hopefully this mask mandate will only be around for a few weeks."
It was noted at the beginning of Monday's discussion that school board members would not be responding to any comments from the public.
Even so, board president Bradd Weddell offered a similar sentiment in expressing his appreciation to all those who chose to speak out during Monday's meeting.
"It takes a lot to come up, and we appreciate everyone's willingness to do so," Weddell said. "As I said at the last meeting, I do appreciate that we have done our best to be respectful of one another. There is a lot of differing opinions that exist out there, but in the end, we all do want what is best for our children. That's what we are all attempting to do here.
"I wish there was one magic thing that we could all do that would solve all of this," he added. "I don't think there's any one person who doesn't wish that. But we are continuing to listen. We are attempting to take all of the information that we can and understand what the public is saying."
John Kline can be reached at [email protected] or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.