GAMBIER -- Wiggin Street Elementary School students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors when the school year begins Thursday.
Gambier village council passed an ordinance Monday mandating mask-wearing indoors for public places within the village, which took effect immediately.
Wiggin Street is located in Gambier and will follow the mask mandate, Mount Vernon City Schools superintendent Bill Seder said Tuesday. Wiggin Street is the only MVCS school geographically affected by the mandate.
In all other MVCS buildings, masks will remain optional, Seder said, which is the district’s policy.
“We’re continuing with our plan to encourage and welcome masks but not mandate them, so in the other five elementary buildings and the middle school and high school, we’ll continue along those lines, certainly keeping safeguards in place,” Seder said. “So, the impact upon the other buildings, quite frankly, may only be from potential transfers and things like that.”
Seder said he received over a dozen calls Tuesday from parents asking to transfer their child currently enrolled at Wiggin Street to another elementary school in the district.
MVCS has open enrollment, which means parents and guardians can request their student attend a different building than the one assigned to them based on their place of residence.
However, the deadline for open enrollment applications for the 2021-22 school year was May 15, 2021.
Seder said the district will decide a few days into the 2021-22 school year, which begins Thursday, whether it will allow transfers because of the mask policy change.
“We really need to better understand our current enrollment projections,” Seder said. “Right now we have a lot of projections, but we really don’t know until the first day or two of school.
“So, as we look towards the beginning of next week, I think we’ll have a better sense of what our class sizes look like in the various buildings throughout the district, at which time if there are those that are interested (in transferring), we may be able to consider them at that time.”
Seder said, generally, the district tries to limit kindergarten through second grade classes to around 20 students, and third through fifth grade classes to 25 or fewer students.
“We want to try to keep our class sizes to a manageable and workable number,” Seder said.
Although most parent calls have involved transfer requests out of Wiggin Street, Seder said he has spoken with a few parents who want to transfer their child or children to Wiggin Street because they prefer their child’s school have a mask mandate.
Another potential complication with transfers involves student transportation.
Students can open enroll within the district, but transportation is not guaranteed, Seder said.
“We’ve always been of the mindset that we welcome open enrollment transfers when possible, but we can’t provide transportation,” Seder said. “So, parents would have to find a way to get their students, children to a school of choice outside of their geographical school.”
Wiggin Street principal Christy Grandstaff directed Knox Pages’ interview request to the district’s central office.
During the Gambier council meeting Monday, approximately a dozen residents — most parents to Wiggin Street students — shared their views about implementing a mask mandate ahead of the council vote.
Some parents voiced concerns with the MVCS mask-optional policy, including Wiggin Street parent Jami Ingledue.
“I was very disappointed to see our school district did not follow the recommendations of the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and our own Knox County Health Department, so I feel strongly that if we can do something as a village, then we should, to protect our kids,” Ingledue said. “In this environment, people will probably be mad either way, so it seems better to err on the side of keeping our kids safe and alive and going with the science.”
Wiggin Street parent Megan Dove urged council not to implement a mandate and said she agreed with MVCS' decision to make masks optional for the 2021-22 school year.
“I don’t think our kids should have to wear masks,” Dove said. “I think it should be a parental choice. If you choose to protect your child at home, please go for it.
“I don’t think that the rest of us should be forced to do so, and I think it’s a personal, parental decision on what we think does or does not make our child safe.”
Another Wiggin Street parent, Jené Schoenfeld, took issue with the parental choice argument.
“To speak to this issue of parent choice, I guess one of my major concerns around that is that if this mask mandate wasn’t passed, and parents choose not to mask their children in school, you’re making a choice for my child because the germs that unmasked children have, they’ll make my child sick,” Jene Schoenfield said. “So I’m not convinced about this idea of parent choice because it is a community issue.”
Several Wiggin Street parents had voiced their intent Monday to transfer their students out of Wiggin Street if Gambier council passed the mask mandate, including parent Terri Lewis.
“You are going to lose students,” Lewis said. “We’re already making plans. And it is sad, because we love Wiggin Street. We love the staff and what they bring to this community.”
Kenyon College also geographically falls under the purview of the mask mandate. However, Kenyon already announced its own indoor mask mandate on Aug. 6, which applies to all Kenyon-owned buildings (with exceptions for residences).