By Dan Spalding
WARSAW — Kosciusko County’s health officer strongly defended Warsaw Community School’s decision to re-establish a mask mandate and criticized parents who he thinks are the driving force in opposing the policy.
A small group of parents and students held three protests last week after the school board voted 5-1 to bring back the mask policy as the Delta variant causes a spike in cases.
While some suggest masks are ineffective and cause physical and emotional problems, others suggested without evidence that the school capitulated with the mask mandate in order to tap into millions of dollars in relief money.
Warsaw Schools eventually issued a statement denying money was part of the decision.
Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert stressed that by adopting the mandate, the district does relax quarantine standards at school – a change in policy that educators say will increase the chance for schools to continue providing in-person learning.
Despite the protest, Hoffert said they continue to see widespread cooperation from students.
Warsaw Schools is the only school in the district to re-establish the mask mandate.
Health Officer William Remington said he hopes other school districts follow suit.
“Warsaw Community schools really took it on the chin to go in the direction of a fully masked school. They were absolutely correct. I fully support them in a public health voice. I think they should be a great example for other schools to look at,” Remington said during a weekly news conference held at Warsaw City Hall on Wednesday morning, Sept. 15.
The protests attracted a few dozen people each time. Remington said he thinks parents are behind much of the opposition.
“It’s not the kids who pushed back against the masking, strangely enough – it’s the voices of the parents,” Remington said.
“The kids will fall in line, parents just need to urge them,” Remington said, “Look, you wear a shirt in a restaurant, you wear shoes in a restaurant. We ask you to wear a mask in school. What is so hard about that?”
He added, “It’s a public health threat, but it won’t be forever – just for a period of time.”
Remington’s been providing updates for more than a year, but his tone on Wednesday sounded agitated and frustrated.
He was also critical of schools that have not been reporting cases this fall with the regularity that was seen last year.
“Schools that have no desire to report cases or quarantine contacts in an unmasked environment is malpractice, in my opinion, and I hope the state finds a way to combat that,” he said.
His greatest concern is the pressure that hospitals in the region are under as the number of COVID cases continues to rise.
The county’s positivity rate this week is 13.2%, which is almost two points higher than last week.
He said the county recorded three more deaths in the past week, bringing that COVID-19 death count to 134.
Mayor Joe Thallemer and County Commissioner Cary Groninger were both asked about vaccine mandates that might be enforced by the federal government. President Joe Biden last week called on all businesses with more than 100 employees to require vaccines.
Thallemer said they are waiting on final rules for the policy and then said it will likely end up in court to determine it’s legality.
Thallemer and Groninger both said they do not favor mandates.