ELKHART, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has confirmed the attorney for Elkhart Community Schools lied to the school board regarding requests for religious exemptions to the school district’s mask mandate. RNM confirmed Douglas Thorne, District Counsel/Chief of Staff, lied to the board during an emergency work meeting last week, through a Freedom of Information Act Request for his emails.
At an emergency working meeting of the Elkhart Community School’s Board of School Trustees, Thorne responded to a question from Board Member Douglas Weaver regarding religious objections/exemptions to the district’s mask mandate.
“At this point in time, I’m not aware of anybody needing a religious objection, at least not to my office. I think if we’re presented with that, we certainly have to review that particular issue, but, to date, that has not come to me. Uh, I don’t believe it’s come to (inaudible) either.” Thorne said. “I don’t think anybody, at least from the standpoint of the administration, has been presented with an individual asking for a religious exemption to that.”
You can watch video of the entire exchange below:
A Freedom of Information Act Request for Thorne’s emails show what he said to the board was not true. In fact, Thorne himself sent and received multiple emails discussing requested religious exemptions for more than a month before the meeting seen in the video above. The earliest email uncovered in the FOIA request is dated August 27th. That email is from the principal of North Side Middle School, where she forwarded along religious exemption paperwork.
In all, RNM uncovered nearly 30 pages of emails discussing religious exemptions. only a handful were after the meeting held on September 28th.
In an August 30th email, Thorn sent the following message to a parent:
“I am in receipt of your communication requesting your children be exempted from wearing a mask while in attendance at North Side Middle School and Eastwood Elementary School. Your request for an exemption is based, as you noted, in a sincerely held religious belief. The decision of the Board of School Trustees for Elkhart Community Schools to enact this requirement for the wearing of a face mask while inside of an Elkhart Community Schools’ building is based upon the school district’s interest in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. As such, your request for this exemption will not be honored.”
Another email on August 30th, discusses a religious exemption requested by a teacher or staff member. The email was sent by the Monger Elementary School principal to the school employee. Thorne is Cc’d on the communication.
“I received your signed Religious Exemption forms and forwarded them along to Doug Thorne to get his guidance on the matter and here is the response I received: ‘ESC will not be honoring requests to be exempt from the mask mandate passed by the Board of School Trustees for students or for employees. ESC’s position is will supported by the Federal Courts.’ It is an expectation that you wear a mask moving forward. When working alone or in a room where you are more than 6 feet away from others, you may remove your masks as a break. Refusal to comply with a mandate passed by the board is wilful (sic) insubordination, which is grounds for contract cancellation or termination.”
The very next day, Thorne sent a memo to staff that stated, in part, “Several administrators have reported they received requests from parents/guardian stating their child be exempted from wearing a mask while in attending Elkhart Community Schools.”
RNM reached out to Thorne regarding the discrepancies in his statement made to the board and the overwhelming evidence in his own emails, showing he lied. He did not respond to RNM’s request for comment.
You can see all of the emails below.
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