The Monroe County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees unanimously recommended that the district join a multidistrict lawsuit against the e-cigarette company Juul on Tuesday night at the December meeting.
About 90 school districts across the U.S. are already involved in the suit. A similar litigation model was used in the 1990s against big tobacco companies on behalf of schools. The current lawsuit seeks compensation for damages caused by Juul for past conduct that schools claim has created hardship for them in educating children and adolescents. The hope is the suit could prevent this conduct in the future.
“They weren’t truthful and they did take advantage of many young people,” board member Sue Wanzer said.
There are no upfront costs for the district to join the suit and no legal fees will be owed if the suit is unsuccessful, according to MCCSC Superintendent Judy DeMuth.
The board was also presented with an update from members of the coronavirus metrics committee. MCCSC has been in the “phase red” learning stage since Dec. 9. The metrics committee is scheduled to meet again Dec. 30 to determine the learning status beginning Jan. 4.
“We continue to see that the majority of individuals are coming in close contact with a positive individual as a result of activities outside of school, a family member or small gatherings,” Assistant Superintendent Andrea Mobley said.
Mobley reviewed some of the new guidelines released by the Indiana Department of Health Guidance for Critical Infrastructure Workers which affect school employees. While a 14-day quarantine for those who are exposed to COVID-19 is still preferred, if an employee is asymptomatic, the department said a district may allow them to return to work under certain conditions.
Mobley said at this time, people at MCCSC will still be required to quarantine for the full 14 days if they come into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Dr. James Laughlin, chief practice officer at IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians, who also serves on the MCCSC metrics committee, said he believes there is little correlation between COVID-19 cases recorded in the county and cases recorded in MCCSC schools.
“Our students have been amazingly compliant,” Laughlin said. “What has been missing is adults in the equation have not been compliant.”
Dr. Scot Moore, from IU Health Riley physicians and another member of the metrics committee, said kids are less likely to spread the coronavirus amongst themselves than adults. The MCCSC weekly COVID-19 average positivity rates have been consistently under 1%. Meanwhile, in Monroe County as a whole, weekly positivity rates have been steadily increasing and are currently around 10%, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
“In retrospect, closing the schools probably did not have a dramatic effect on decreasing the spread through the communities even back in March, but it seemed at that time that the concerns justified the harm in missed education to protect the population as a whole,” Moore said.
There still have not been any known cases of a student contracting COVID-19 from another student during the school day. MCCSC staff has continued recording cases of COVID-19 found in the district. This process generally takes place within an hour of the time the case is initially reported.
There have also been no pediatric admissions to the IU Health Bloomington Hospital for COVID-19 since school has begun. Moore noted that during the same time, the hospital has admitted 29 adolescents for intended or attempted suicide. Nearly all of these cases cited isolation as a contributing factor. Moore said this is about 10 times more than is typically seen and is in part due to a lack of space at in-patient facilities.
The MCCSC school board is expected to review the current metrics next month with physicians and members of the metrics committee. These metrics are used to recommend future learning stages.
Board member Brandon Shurr asked if more students could be accommodated safely at MCCSC. Mobley said however many students return to in-person classes, they could be taught in a socially distanced manner. Board member Jacinda Townsend Gides said she wanted to clarify that students and parents who prefer virtual learning were still heard and accepted.
“It’s really easy for us to sit here and say that kids should be in school, but there a lot of kids who care about public health and there are a lot of adults who care about public health and are going to keep their kids at home,” Townsend Gides said.
The board said goodbye to Wanzer, who will be replaced by April Hennessey, who won the November election for her seat on the board. Hennessey will join the board next year to represent District 2.
“While this is difficult, you all know what a supporter of public education I am over voucher schools and private schools,” Wanzer said. “Mainly because public education has an elected board and the community decided.”