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Pressure mounts on elected school board members thrust into the middle of bitter mask wearing disputes

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Leaders of Northwest Allen County Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools defend mask wearing mandates in their districts, despite some critics of the plans.

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - Serving on a school board has never been an easy assignment.

But public scrutiny and criticism are intensifying for many school board representatives who suddenly must decide whether students, teachers and visitors to district buildings must wear masks because of the threat of COVID-19.

Monday night, Northwest Allen County School Board Members got shouted at as emotions flared leading up to and after a mask wearing mandate was approved for the school system.

By a vote of 3-2, the NACS Board of School Trustees reinstated a mask wearing requirement, based in large part on a growing number of confirmed COVID cases among students in the school corporation so far this school year.

Opponents of the mandate chanted "Re-vote, Re-vote" during the highly charged meeting and at points during the meeting we're told mask mandate supporters got heckled by certain members of the audience.

National Public Radio last week generated a story about mounting pressure many school board members across the country are facing as masking policy changes are debated and voted on.

A former president of the National School Boards Association in the article claimed knowledge of many school board representatives planning to resign or not seek re-election because of such controversies.

The head of the Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher union also fears the battles could prompt a large number of seasoned school board members across the U.S. to leave their posts.

"People are wanting to join school boards because they care about kids, they want to do community service, they don't want to have people shouting at them and threatening them and following them home and really you're trying to do good things for your family and your community and if it's not appreciated or it's putting your family at risk, do they really want to do that," said Sandra Vohs, the president of the Fort Wayne Education Association.

"Polarizing politics has a tendency to bring out partisans, and it has a tendency to turn off voters who are sort of in the middle. What can happen when you see this sort of controversy being raised, is an awful lot of support comes out for people on one side or the other, and people in the middle are the ones who stop participating," said Andy Downs with the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne.

The Northwest Allen County Schools mask mandate goes into effect September 1 and is set to expire October 14, unless COVID trends or advice of public health officials convinces NACS board members to order an extension of the policy.

Jeff Neumeyer

Jeff Neumeyer is a reporter for WPTA.

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