School board debates masks
New London eases outdoor protocols, still requires masks indoors
By John Faucher
The New London School Board debated masking requirements at its April 12 regular board meeting.
The debate concluded April 26 with a formal action easing some outdoor mask requirements for students.
On April 12, in light of the March 31 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling overturning Gov. Tony Evers mask mandate, District Administrator Scott Bleck explained recommendations from the Wisconsin Health Services Department, Waupaca County Public Health and Outagamie County Health departments.
The agencies continue urging the public to continue wearing masks.
Bleck also pointed out a legal analysis supporting the board’s ability and authority to address face covering practices as it deemed appropriate.
Governor’s order, board’s decision
Board member Chris Martinson brought up a July 13, 2020 New London school board decision which passed by a vote of 5-2. He said he felt it was “far less restrictive than the governor’s orders.”
“From the testimony we’ve heard here, we’re still acting as though the governor’s order is still in place, rather than falling back to the less restrictive one that we passed. Is that perception correct?” Martinson asked.
He then noted that he heard of five other school districts that adopted voluntary mask wearing plans giving parents and students a choice rather than requiring them to wear them.
“It is the board’s decision,” Bleck said.
“I welcome the board’s feedback to make that decision with confidence as you see fit for the individuals that are here tonight and the individuals that are watching on television,” said Bleck, again referencing the legal analysis in the board packet.
“This group has more than ample information and prep and plan to make an adequate decision based on bringing forward solutions for the board to consider. This is a decision of the board in this regard,” said Bleck.
Martinson agreed and went back to the board’s decision in June 2020.
Board member Mark Grossman explained he was on that committee and stated that the group made several decisions as they were dealing with a “very fluid situation” at the time.
“The numbers were continuing to rise in the state. We were getting new information. That’s why that recommendation was changed, Chris, is that there was more information that was recommending that we go that way,” said Grossman.
Martinson responded, “I personally think that we’re ready to go back to that original June plan and make it voluntary for the parents.”
Reasons to maintain current protocols
Grossman said, “I’m in favor of continuing on with our current protocols that we’ve had all year and here is my reasoning behind it.
For one, I don’t want to jeopardize graduation. Right now we’ve got an opportunity to have a graduation ceremony and we’ve got the plans in place. Last year, that class missed out on it and I don’t want to see that happen to the class of 2021.”
Grossman also mentioned the lost opportunities for students involved in spring sports last year due to elevated COVID-19 numbers.
“I don’t want to run the risk of having their sports canceled for a second year in a row,” said Grossman.
Grossman also noted that the there is a current surge of positive cases in the age groups of 10-19 and 20-29 year olds.
“And they’re linking it back to groups and sporting activities, specifically in our state and in Michigan,” said Grossman.
He said for the most part the kids are doing “just fine” with wearing the masks, while parents were most apt to complain.
“We’re looking at six more weeks of school and I don’t want to risk them missing any more in-person class because we could end up with another surge and the numbers ticking up in the state. Again look at the statistics in this age group,” he said.
Grossman urged the school board to stick with what they’ve had in place.
Martinson asked if he meant the board protocol passed on July 13, 2020.
Grossman replied, “The one that we’ve been living with, Chris, every day since school started.”
“So you’re recommending we continue to follow the illegal governor’s order,” said Martinson.
“No, no, no, no,” said Grossman. “It is very well stated that we are in control of what we do in our school district. His order has nothing to do with what we decide here Chris so don’t make it sound like we’re doing something illegal.”
“Excuse me, I’ll just interject this. What the Supreme Court ruled was that the governor exceeded his authority in length of time. They didn’t say anything about the effectiveness of masks. So to put those two together is inappropriate,” Pete Bosquez said.
Fluid situation, changing protocols
Board President Terry Wegner noted that while the board did set a less restrictive protocol last July, the board also set a new protocol later based on the current situation.
“Are we willing to at least get rid of masks outside where they’re completely ridiculous anyways?” asked Heideman.
Grossman said he was willing to loosen up on some outdoor activities but he would not move on anything indoors.
Heideman made a motion to remove masks requirements for all outdoor activities, including recess.
Martinson seconded the motion.
Bosquez said he would be in favor only if some parameters were set up and established for re-entry points to the school.
He said it was only fair to give principals, teachers and supervisors on the playground direction ahead of time because approving such a decision would be “a complete 180 from what we’re doing and that might not be fair to them.”
Wegner suggested letting the administration team come up with a recommendation for the April 26 meeting.
“Everything I see from a public safety standpoint in my board packet says keep wearing your masks. But if we can do something outside we certainly can do it but I think it’s fair to say set up the protocols so we’re all on the same page,” said Wegner.
On April 26, the board unanimously approved revising the masking guidelines to allow removal of masks during controlled outdoor activities with social distancing expectations remaining in place. Masking expectations are also still in place upon entering buildings.