Virus still frustrates Franklin school leaders, community

Mask wearing and other COVID-19 issues remained a frustrating topic of conversation for Franklin school leaders and community members at Monday’s school board meeting.

Becky Barnes, the school district’s athletic director, said she is recommending the district encourage students, particularly student athletes, to wear masks inside when social distancing is not achievable.

Barnes, who is also the district’s athletic trainer, said she wants to avoid students having to be quarantined as a result of contact tracing when they are found to have been near COVID positive students.

Barnes added that she “highly encourages” students to get vaccinated as well so they could potentially avoid quarantining altogether.

“I know some of you hate it, but that’s where we are at right now,” Barnes said.

Two parents of students then addressed the board.

“These masks I don’t think are working…people got COVID anyways even if they wore masks,” said Susan Byler. “And I would like to get rid of them because you cannot stop a virus from spreading.”

“I agree with her, I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Misty Deschambeau.

Deschambeau said she attended the meeting to find out more about COVID-19 related issues.

“Are they going to be sent home, are they going to wear a mask?” Deschambeau said while questioning what the district’s stance is for various potential scenarios.

Superintendent Mark Loucks said the school’s health and safety plan from July stated that masks weren’t going to be required for students. A letter sent to parents July 29 said mask wearing is strongly encouraged for students who aren’t vaccinated.

“The governor has not mandated masks for public school districts,” Loucks said.

During his report Monday, Loucks clarified that the state Department of Health is now mandating COVID-19 vaccination sites for all schools.

“I want to make that clear, it has been mandated,” Loucks said. “We have to work with them to find a location.”

Loucks said after Monday’s meeting the district will suggest a location away from school grounds for the state’s mobile vaccine units to set up. He said the state will have to approve any plans submitted.

COVID-related issues continued during reports by school board members toward the end of the meeting.

“Well, where do I start,” said board member Donald Judy.

Judy said he thinks the kids have “been through enough,” COVID vaccinations are available “just about anywhere… for some reason you can get the shot on school grounds,” and masks should be optional for students.

Barnes asked to speak again to clarify her earlier statements and said she wants to avoid students having to sit out for 10 days due to being contact traced.

After the meeting, Barnes told the newspaper she expects the Delta variant to impact schools worse this year due to increased contagiousness.

“I think you are going to see more kids test positive,” she said.

Judy resumed his report following Barnes’ comments and said he has avoided catching COVID despite being “being surrounded by people who caught it.”

Judy received supporting statements and claps from the small crowd that attended Monday’s meeting, which caused school board president Brian Spaid to call the meeting to order to curb more than one person speaking at a time.

Judy then said he doesn’t think schools teach enough American history “good or bad.”

“Right now I think we are at a crossroads where people really need to know their history,” he said.

Board member Misty Nalepa said in her report that “the district as a whole should not be dictating or saying that people need to be getting vaccinated.”

Board member Andy Boland said the district vaccination site should make sure students have parental consent before they get vaccinated.

During a reopened public comments section, Alesha Hartsfield said she was worried about her kids feeling pressured by others to get vaccinated, potentially causing them to forge a signature to get vaccinated at school.

Loucks and Spaid voiced the frustration they have experienced in dealing with the pandemic.

“In all our years on the board this has been the most frustrating thing to deal with,” Spaid said.

Spaid said the COVID issues are very political but also said that above all the board has to follow CDC and state Department of Education directives.

He added that those guidelines don’t necessarily follow what the board and parents think should be done.

Loucks said districts can sometimes look disorganized when announcing their guidelines, but they are trying to respond to guidelines that are coming out last minute from the state.

“In reality we are just trying to respond to something that came out of the woodwork,” Loucks said.