During the New Castle School Board meeting that took place Monday night, the hot topic was face masks at school.

The city school district has had a mandate since Aug. 25 for all elementary students and staff members to wear masks when indoors. This mandate, however, does not apply to the middle school or high school students and staff members.

New guidelines from the governor’s office state that students will not necessarily be quarantined for close contact with COVID-positive people if they attend a school that requires everyone to wear a face mask.

Brook Johnson is a parent of New Castle students and spoke up about New Castle’s mask mandate Monday night. Johnson said the mask policy should be applied to all New Castle school buildings.

“I am asking that the middle school and high school please require masks while students and staff are inside. My son has been quarantined twice now and it is greatly affecting his schoolwork,” she told the board members.

Johnson pointed out that of all the board members and school administration at the meeting, only three board members were not wearing face masks.

“So you know it’s important when in close settings. Why not make our kids and teachers wear them too?” she asked.

Dr. Trina Wilkey, the schools’ registered nurse, spoke up to ensure New Castle parents knew how intense the contact tracing is before telling a student they must be quarantined.

Wilkey said, “We put in a lot of work before deciding quarantine is necessary. We look at contact tracing, attendance of the students being traced, vaccine information, mask-tracing, and monitor their signs/symptoms. We are doing everything we can to keep your children in school.”

Another parent, Seth Lee, spoke on behalf of the student athletes regarding quarantine requirements.

“We are all aware you can contract COVID, receive a COVID vaccine, and then contract COVID again,” Lee said. “I feel like the quarantine guidelines are forcing our hands as parents to make our children receive a vaccine we don’t approve of, just to keep them out of quarantine. Isn’t there a way to help those student athletes who are trying to stay safe? Why should choir members, academic teams and volleyball players be punished when they are wearing their masks and keeping their distance, but some other kid decided not to comply, tested positive, and now the whole class is quarantined? It just doesn’t seem right to me.”

Board member Cory Bennett responded to Lee’s statement.

“I get your frustration. It happened to my kid, who happens to be a football player,” Bennett said. “Understand, we truly are doing the best we can given the circumstances.”

Lee added, “I just feel like we are doing nothing to help the driven kids.”

School updates

In other business, the New Castle High School tennis court remodel has begun, and a lot of other improvements are coming down the road. The design for Bundy Auditorium will be finalized in October, with remodel beginning Summer 2022.

In November, assistant superintendent Adam McDaniel will be hosting a presentation that will include timelines for the middle school completion. In the next few weeks, 10 sixth grade teaching positions will open up for those who wish to apply.

Superintendent Dr. Matthew Shoemaker thanked the maintenance staff for making the football field, school, and fieldhouse look so nice for the 2021 Homecoming celebration. He also thanked Mayor Greg York and the City Council for the flowers and landscaping around the school and town.

Shoemaker noted that McDaniel gave around 100 tours of the middle school construction on Saturday during homecoming festivities.

The next New Castle school board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 11.