Seymour, Brownstown schools amend reopening policies


By Lori McDonald and Zach Spicer | The Tribune

[email protected], [email protected]

Two Jackson County public school districts have made adjustments to their policies regarding mask wearing.

With the county back at the red level threat for COVID-19 spread, the Seymour Community School Corp. board of education amended its reopening plan to include protocol for both red and orange advisory levels, while the Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of school trustees amended its reopening plan to include protocol for the red advisory level.

During a two-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Seymour school board approved with a vote of 5-2 with board members Jeff Joray and Max Klosterman voting against. Brownstown’s board approved 5-2 with the nay votes coming from trustees Clayton Beard and David Martin.


In Seymour’s decision, board members pointed to changes in the Indiana State Department of Health metrics as well as the district data reported by Superintendent Brandon Harpe.

“On Monday within our district, there were 40 students and seven staff members who tested positive for COVID,” Harpe said. “There were 284 students quarantined along with eight staff members.”

On Monday alone, there were 2,268 hours of in-person instruction lost for the students and 112 hours of work lost for staff members.

“The school board and school officials are not medical professionals, so it’s not their job to determine if masks work or not,” Harpe said. “However, we are educational professionals, and it is our job to keep kids in school where data clearly show that they learn the best and are the safest.”

Nearly 40 Seymour community members attended the school board meeting, and 10 of them stepped up to the microphone to voice their opinion — eight for and two against wearing masks in school.

Among those speaking in favor of the protocol were four medical professionals from Schneck Medical Center, three parents and a Seymour High School student.

With children of his own, Tyler Henkle said students wearing masks would cut down on quarantine time, and there would be fewer parents needing to take off work to stay home and take care of their quarantined kids.

“This shouldn’t be a political decision, rather it should be about the kids being in school and getting their education,” Henkle said.

Dr. David Hartung, a family practice physician at Schneck Primary Care, also spoke in favor of masks. He currently serves on the Jackson County Board of Health.

“I’m here to tell you I saw masks have an effect last year, and every day last winter with the almost nonexistent flu season, hardly any strep throat or stomach bugs,” Hartung said. “That was a result of masks and social distancing.”

He said there is a lot of false information out there right now, and he asked for people to trust the physicians’ medical advice over false information.

“This is not a debate as to whether masks work or not. They are far from perfect, but they are another measure to help slow the spread of the disease,” Hartung said. “Vaccines and social distancing aren’t perfect, but together, they can and will help.”

Speakers opposed to the mask protocol included a parent and State District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour.

Lucas said he appreciated the prior speakers and had the utmost respect for their knowledge, opinions and dedication to the community, but the one thing about masks is people say it’s not political, but it has become political.

“I respect the words of the doctors and physicians saying masks work, but I’ve seen other instances from doctors and scientists saying masks don’t work,” he said.

Lucas said no one has yet to explain how a piece of cloth that is worn haphazardly — because 5,300 children in the corporation aren’t going to be wearing them correctly and will be touching their faces — will do any good.

“One of the best ways to mitigate the spread of COVID is by washing your hands,” he said.

At the conclusion of the public’s allowed time to speak, school board President Art Juergens said he has been in education for a long time and never before has he seen an issue divide the public like the mask issue has.

“We as a board, it’s our No. 1 job to think of the students in Seymour Community Schools, and we try to do what’s best for them, and sometimes, people disagree with us,” Juergens said. “The board respects the opinions of the public, and that’s why we’re doing this tonight.”

Nancy Franke and other board members commended the attendees and speakers for speaking calmly yet passionately as they voiced their opinions at the meeting.

“I think the world could learn a lot from Seymour, Indiana,” Harpe said. “I was really impressed with how both sides handled themselves.”

Brownstown Central

Brownstown Superintendent Tim Taylor said starting Wednesday and continuing today and Friday, students will be encouraged to wear masks in the school buildings.

Then beginning Monday, masks will be required, and that will continue as long as the county is in red advisory level.

Taylor’s recommendation came after the corporation received an executive order from Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb encouraging masking and a request from the Jackson County Health Department to require masking.

As of Sept. 10, Taylor said 181 Brownstown students had been sent home for 10 days as close contacts at school. As of Tuesday, an additional 16 students were quarantined as close contacts at school.

“It’s a combined 1,970 days, 13,790 hours or 827,400 minutes of instruction that have been missed by students who were close contacts at school,” he said before recommending the board amend the reopening plan to require masking in school buildings at any time the county’s advisory level is red.

Taylor said masking will not be required at school athletic events since those are optional activities. School attendance, on the other hand, is governed by compulsory attendance laws.

Taylor then asked for a vote. Gina Hackman made the motion, Mary Lou Burcham seconded and it passed despite the two nay votes.

“Thank you to everyone for your understanding and support as we make every possible effort to keep our students, staff and community healthy,” Taylor said.

Trustee Brian Wheeler shared his thoughts after the vote.

“Hats off to our nursing director, nursing staff, building principals, every teacher in every building,” he said. “I know it’s challenging. Hats off to them.”

President Scott Shade also thanked the nurses for their work.

“Man, what a job to try to stay on track of what’s going on. They are put in some positions that none of us would like to do,” he said. “We’ve all had some tough decisions to make here with the kids’ best interest to try to make sure that the kids are in school. We appreciate everybody working together.”

No posts to display