CEDAR GROVE, Wis. - Several Wisconsin school districts are taking on the mask debate in the classroom. The Cedar Grove-Belgium School District made it optional starting Monday, May 3 with five weeks remaining in the school year.
"Concerns are real, and fears are real and nobody has gone through something like this before," said Superintendent Chad Brakke.
Still, the school board approved making masks optional for students in 4K to high school seniors. Brakke said a community survey overwhelmingly supported the change listing a variety of reasons.
"The social-emotional damage," said Brakke. "Some parents reporting their students actually having medical concerns."
However, this change goes against recommendations from the Sheboygan County Health Department. Another change is the proximity between desks, now 3 feet apart instead of 6 feet apart. -- a recommendation from the World Health Organization.
"Today is the first day, and I’ve walked around 50/50 students," said Brakke. "I would say most staff are still wearing them."
Brakke said they hit their peak with positive COVID-19 cases in fall 2020, but cases have been on the decline since January in both the county and the district.
"Our numbers are still low," said Brakke.
Several school districts in Wisconsin are taking on the mask-wearing debate. Superintendent Brakke said he knows this change does not sit well with everyone.
"Our administration has made sure to talk with staff and students about still respecting each other," said Brakke.
He said reversing this change would require action from the school board. For now, district officials will continue to monitor cases.
"Trying to continue to gain information and make the best decisions you can," said Brakke.
The Shebogyan County Health Department issued this statement:
"Public Health, with the guidance of WI DHS and CDC, continues to recommend wearing masks for both students and staff at school, during public and bus transportation, and outdoor (sports) activities. Though Sheboygan County is continuing to see adults, and now 16+ students, getting vaccinated, we still have a long way to go, as only about 40% of our community has had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Public Health would also like to emphasize that all masks are well fit. The most effective fabric for cloth masks are tightly woven, such as cotton and cotton blends. The more layers to the mask, the better protection to the respiratory droplets and aerosol particles. This, with the other multiple layers of mitigation in place, will be the best at combating the risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19 in the classrooms.
As of March 19, 2021, CDC and Wisconsin State Health Department and CDC updated the distance in the classroom to 3 feet. (Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools - CDC). The recommendation in distancing for adult to student and adult to adult has continued to be 6 feet. The definition of close contact has not changed, meaning that there may be more classroom close contact if an exposure occurred in this setting. Again, the definition of a close contact is someone who is less than 6 feet in distance for 15 min or greater in a 24 hour setting.
Regardless of the level of community transmission, it is critical that schools use and layer prevention strategies. Schools providing in-person instruction should prioritize two prevention strategies: 1. Universal and correct use of masks and 2. Physical distancing should be maximized to the greatest extent possible. All prevention strategies provide some level of protection, and layered strategies implemented at the same time provide the greatest level of protection.
Public Health provides this guidance to our local schools as best practice COVID-19 mitigation strategies, however it is ultimately their choice to decide the rules for their school/district."