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Owen County Health Department rescinds school mask mandate after backlash

Posted at 1:08 AM, Aug 25, 2021

OWEN COUNTY — For the past several weeks, many Central Indiana school districts have reinstated mask mandates citing the increase of COVID-19 cases in their schools, forcing students to quarantine.

However, Dr. Diane Wells, health officer for the Owen County Health Department, rescinded mask mandate guidance for Spencer-Owen Community Schools following swift backlash from some parents.

"It wasn't good for the children to see this much anger and hate and ugliness among the adults that are responsible to teach them," Dr. Wells said. "I still think it was the appropriate thing to do. However, I did not anticipate the anger and pushback."

An increase in COVID-19 cases led the Owen County Health Department to issue the mask mandate for school staff and students ages 8 and over. Residents rallied on social media against the idea and spoke at several meetings.

They even reached out to the health department and Dr. Wells directly. She told WRTV she doesn't want to focus on the negative messages she received and she gives those people the benefit of the doubt that they believe they are doing what is best for their kids.

"I think public health involves not only enforcing appropriate, medical sound rules, but also being aware of the social, political, and emotional ramifications of those rules," Dr. Wells said.

Despite the backlash, Dr. Wells said there's a silent majority in her community that supports what she was trying to do.

As Dr. Wells left the health department, WRTV's reporter and photographer saw a woman pull over to thank the doctor for her efforts. Now that masks are optional for the district, Dr. Wells hopes the community will come together if COVID-19 spreads in their schools.

"If some children are quarantined that means somebody's not gonna get to go to work. How are we going to help those children? There are children who are quarantined, they don't have access or ability to computers. Do we have some people to help them get online and help with their education?" Dr. Wells said.

As a pastor in the community for 20 years at Shiloh Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, Dr. Wells says she is leaning on her faith to get through this tough time. She hopes others choose to do the same as we continue to deal with this pandemic.

"I want my kids to be able to go back and say you behaved with grace, love and forgiveness," she said. "That's what I want for everyone because looking back, you won't ever regret being civil, kind, loving and forgiving."

Owen County is currently at a Level 2 Advisory. Their positivity rate, as of now, is 8.53%, and 43.4% of those eligible in the county are vaccinated.