What happened?

It seems important to discuss that question given that there was clearly confusion during Monday’s Jay School Board meeting and, based on some of what we’ve heard and read, that confusion still exists.

Some who attended the meeting seemed to think the board was voting on implementation of a mask mandate. It was not. A mask mandate was never on the table.

Some who attended seemed to think the school board was handing over power to the county health department.

That also is not the case.

Jay County Health Department “has the responsibility and authority to take any action authorized by statute or rule of the state department to control communicable diseases.”

That responsibility and authority is not granted by Jay School Board.

It is not granted by Jay County Commissioners.

It is not even granted by the governor.

The health department’s responsibility and authority to take action is enshrined in state law. It existed before Monday night. It existed before the coronavirus pandemic. It existed before any of our current school-aged children were even born.

That part of Indiana Code — Title 16, Article 20, Chapter 1, Section 21, for anyone who would like to look it up and read for themselves — became state law in 1993.

Furthermore, Jay County residents should understand the health department has such authority, given that such a situation played out in this community less than four years ago.

On Jan. 31, 2018, Jay County Health Department and Indiana State Department of Health instituted control measures for Bloomfield Elementary School because of a chickenpox outbreak. Those measures included exclusion from school of any student who was not immunized against the disease. The protocols remained in place for about two and a half weeks, after which they were lifted because no additional cases of chickenpox had been identified.

The school board’s resolution passed Monday did not create new power for the health department. Rather, it acknowledged health department authority that has been in place for nearly 30 years.

In fact, the only part of the resolution that is controversial when it comes to state law is the amendment that said, “the Jay School Board reserves the right to review and vote on any such orders before they are implemented in the schools.” We find nothing in Indiana Code that gives a school board the authority to override or ignore a health department order regarding communicable disease control. (In certain cases, but not all, county commissioners must approve local health department orders.)

Those who think local health departments should not have responsibility and authority when it comes to communicable disease control are certainly welcome to that opinion. But their argument is with state law, not Jay School Board.

State law gives that responsibility and authority to the health department. — R.C.