Waupaca School Board questions masks mandates
Administration explains data challenges
By Robert Cloud
At a special meeting on Sept. 7, the Waupaca School Board reviewed the data and methods used by the district’s medical team and administration to require masks inside school buildings.
The administration has reversed the school board’s Aug. 10 decision to make masks optional.
In an Aug. 27 memo to parents and staff, District Administrator Ron Saari said, “After continued consultation with our medical team, we are moving to all students, staff, and visitors being required to wear face masks while inside any District building starting Aug. 30, continuing through Sept. 10.”
Saari noted in an Aug. 31 email, that on Aug. 10, the date of the school board meeting, “The 14 day confirmed positive average was 7.0. On Aug. 27, this average jumped to 9.8, which is what the 14 day confirmed positive average was back on Feb. 5. Today we have 6 positive individuals in our cohort of students and staff along with 12 close contacts on quarantine. On Aug. 10 we had zero positive cases in our cohort. Since Aug. 13, we have had a total of 11 positive cases in our cohort.”
School Board President Stephen Johnson noted the challenges in following the data due to changes that have been made in how they are reported.
“What are you seeing in the numbers, assuming you have better information available to you than I’m able to find?” Johnson asked.
Reviewing the numbers
Director of Student Services Laurie Schmidt presented slides to show what the medical team and administrators look at when determining what guidelines, including masks, the district should implement.
Members of the medical team include Waupaca County Health Officer Jed Wohlt, Dr. Dorrie Happe, and school nurses Jamie Trzebiatowski and Hanna Rowe.
“We want kids in school five days a week. We want them in person,” Schmidt said. “We want our teachers to be healthy so we don’t need to go to a different learning option.”
Schmidt said the medical team considers the number of students and staff who have tested positive, the number of probable cases, trends in the district and county figures, the number of students and staff who have been identified as having close contact with a person who tested positive, and local hospitalization trends.
When asked the difference between a positive case and a probable case, Schmidt said a probable case is someone who has taken an antigen test and had a positive result.
If someone has taken a PCR test, they will be considered positive if the test results are positive.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, the difference between the two is that the antigen test has an increased chance of false-negative results. PCR tests are considered more accurate.
If someone has a positive result from an antigen test, they may either get it confirmed with a PCR test or spend 10 days in isolation.
The school nurse said a small child in a household where there are multiple positive cases would be counted as probable if they were symptomatic.
Saari said one of the frustrations the administration is experiencing is that the numbers change from day to day.
The number of positive cases has risen from zero in early August to five cases for several days in the week prior to the Sept. 7 meeting.
County, state data discrepancies
Rowe said the medical team also has difficulties interpreting the difference between local data reported by the state and county.
The county reports cases as soon as they learn about the test results, while the state dates the cases based on when the person who tested positive first showed symptoms. This creates a delay in the state’s data.
“Is there a plan?” school board member Dale Feldt asked. “Can people tell at what point masks will be required or optional?”
“To be realistic, there isn’t a specific line that I can draw in the sand or that our nurses can draw in the sand,” Schmidt said.
Board member Steve Klismet asked about the number of students who were not showing up at school due to the mask mandate.
“We do have students that are not coming to school because of the mask mandate,” Saari said. “Some have open enrolled out, some have registered to home school, some have registered with the virtual option.”
He said students who are enrolled in Waupaca may take their ChromeBooks home and try to stay caught up with their classes through Schoology.
Feldt said he hoped that people in the community would respect each other and not take their anger out on the people who work there.
Johnson said the board was not going to make a decision on the issue at the Sept. 7 meeting.
During the meeting, there were students outside the high school protesting the mask mandate.