Madison Consolidated Schools have closed E.O. Muncie Junior/Senior High School through the end of next week due to issues related to COVID-19, Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Studebaker said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Madison school board.

Studebaker said 39 students were impacted by COVID-19 recently with five testing positive and 34 being in close contact, and with 80 to 100 students attending the alternative school that resulted in about half of the student body being impacted.

“They need a breather from each other, so we can re-set,” Studebaker said, noting Muncie students are scheduled to return to in-person classes on Monday, Sept. 20.

He noted that the positive cases and contacts all came from a group of students who had masks off while eating lunch.

Meanwhile, he said the infection numbers remain OK for the corporation’s other schools, but noted, “we’re watching them very closely.” He said it is always a challenge when the county is at “Red” for high spread or “Orange” for high to medium spread and Jefferson County is currently in the “Orange” after having been in the “Red.”

In related business, the board approved a new document related to the corporation’s masking and close contact quarantine policy.

Studebaker asked for the policy update following an executive order issued Sept. 1 by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb that students, teachers and staff don’t have to quarantine if they are properly wearing a mask and are not showing symptoms of COVID-19.

The new MCS policy was updated to state that those who correctly and consistently wear a well-fitting mask do not have to quarantine if the come in close contact unless they are symptomatic. Additionally, the new policy allows non-vaccinated close contacts to return to school on day eight after an exposure if a COVID test obtained between day five and day seven indicates a negative test result for COVID-19.

Studebaker said the new masking and close contact quarantine policy was prepared by Lindsay Black, assistant director of student services for Madison Consolidated Schools, and Lauren Campbell, head nurse/coordinator. He said the “concise, easy-to-read and to understand” document has been cited by the Indiana Department of Health to the rest of the state as an good example of policy.

“They came up with great plan,” Studebaker said. However, he said he does have some concerns about what is going to “happen as far as not having the close contacts quarantine, but we’ll see.”

Studebaker also reported that a MCS vaccination clinic saw about 25 high school and junior high students get vaccinations along with five staff members and one parent. “I was hoping for a little more, but it is 31 more vaccinated than were before,” he said.

Studebaker commended the work staff members are doing to meet the challenges of the ongoing pandemic “We can’t put enough praise on the people we are employing who are there with the kids every single day because it is hard duty right now,” he said. “It always has been, but with all the stuff going on with COVID, it’s taking it to a whole new space.”