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Ellettsville Charter School Will Not Require Masks, Opposes County Mandate

A photo outside of Seven Oaks Classical School in Ellettsville.

(Courtesy: Seven Oaks Classical School)

Seven Oaks Classical School, a public charter in Ellettsville, will begin its fall semester on Wednesday without requiring students and staff to wear masks.

This would be a direct violation of Monroe County’s mask mandate that was reinstated by the Board of Commissioners last week amid surging COVID-19 cases in the area.

READ MORE: Monroe County Reinstates Mask Mandate Indoors, IU Follows Suit

Terry English is an attorney for Seven Oaks and also serves on the school's Board of Directors. He said after receiving feedback from parents and other board members, the school has decided to not follow the CDC recommendations.

"This is not a fight to the death over masking policy. I will concede that the Monroe County Health Dept. and the county commissioners who approved their policy are interested in protecting the children of our school, but so are we," English said. "It is a question about who is in a better position to determine what is the best for the psychological and medical needs of the students."

English said it is completely within the county's rights to legally challenge the school's decision. He said that could come via an injunction filed in court or possibly a fine.

"If they want to come after Seven Oaks Classical School, they [county health dept.] have to make a presentation to the county commissioners, who has to then decide we are in violation of their order," English said.

But English said he believes the school is following the directions given by Gov. Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Dept. of Education and the State Dept. of Health, which all decided to not impose any statewide COVID-19 restrictions in schools.

"The governor said that we don’t have to mask up, so we are not going to do it," English said. 

In June, the Seven Oaks Classical School board approved its COVID-19 guidelines for the 2021-22 school year. English said it was at that point when members decided in-person classes should resume without children wearing masks.

When asked if the school's vaccination rate for eligible students and staff was a factor in that decision, English said it was not.

"We said that we were not going to inquire of any student, staff or teacher as to their vaccination status, and we were not going to require anybody to get the vaccine," English said. "That is a medical determination, which is reserved to the parents."

County health officials stated that a plateaued vaccination rate was one of the main reasons for bringing back the mask mandate. That number is currently at 57 percent and has stayed close to that range over the last several weeks. 

The mask mandate states county schools must comply with the recently updated CDC guidance, which recommends face coverings inside schools in places with high risk of virus transmission. 

The Monroe County Health Dept. has determined, based off CDC principles, that anything greater than 51 positive cases of the virus per 100,00 residents constitutes as a significant risk of community spread. 

According to Indiana's COVID-19 dashboard, Monroe County is in the "yellow advisory" with 99 cases per 100,000 residents. 

"Our goal is voluntary compliance from all those who are legally required to follow our rules. If they refuse to comply with the regulation, then we will assess with our legal department and the commissioners what next steps and options, if any, we should take," health administrator Penny Caudill said in an email. 

Caudill said follow-up conversations with non-compliant schools would be in order before any legal proceedings. 

English said at this time he has not heard anything from the county on enforcement of the mask mandate. He also said Seven Oaks fully intends to open its doors as scheduled on Wednesday without requiring students and staff to wear face coverings.

"Nothing we would do would subject our students to any sort of continuing harm. And if we wanted to come in and modify the policies, we’ll certainly have an emergency session to do that," English said.

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