Masks off, masks on: Luxemburg-Casco School Board reverses decision to lift mask, COVID-19 quarantine requirements
LUXEMBURG – Five days after lifting mask requirements and quarantine protocols implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in its schools, the Luxemburg-Casco School Board reversed course Monday in a special meeting held specifically to revisit the issue.
After an hour and 45 minutes of public comment by about 40 speakers and 45 minutes of subsequent discussion by board members, the board voted 7-0 to immediately reinstate mandatory wearing of face coverings for students and staff when in common areas indoors (such as hallways) and rooms without protective barriers for social distancing between students, with masks remaining optional when outdoors or in classrooms with the plexiglass barriers.
It also reinstated quarantine protocols recommended by the Kewaunee County Public Health Department that were lifted last week: 10 days for those testing positive, 14 days for those who had close contact with someone carrying the virus.
The protocols run until June 4, the day after the 2020-21 high school year ends, at which point mask wearing will become optional in all school buildings. The board previously voted to make masks optional for summer school, and board President Mike Driedric said that will remain in effect heading into the 2021-22 year unless the issue is revisited.
By a 4-3 vote, the board decided in a May 5 special meeting to lift mask requirements and quarantine rules immediately. Driedric said in the aftermath of that decision, he and other board members were contacted by many people on both sides of the coin who brought up issues that weren't brought up for the vote.
One of those issues was interscholastic athletics, and that played a major role in reverting to the previous health precautions.
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Luxemburg-Casco has a busy sports schedule this month, but after the board removed the COVID-19-related precautions, a number of schools in the North Eastern Conference, of which the Spartans are a member, informed the school that their teams won't come to Luxemburg-Casco or host its students for games because the quarantine restrictions were lifted, Superintendent Glenn Schlender told the Star-News.
Schlender also said the Spartans' ability to play postseason tournaments leading to the state high school championships might have been compromised under current WIAA guidelines, although he added it's unclear because the WIAA has different guidelines that seem to depend on the sport and the social distancing possible when playing them.
"In the end, their consensus position was that we need to follow North Eastern Conference and WIAA guidelines," Schlender said about his talks with athletic directors and superintendents from NEC schools. "Their primary concern was the quarantine, but there are some masking guidelines as well; it varies by sport."
"The message was, as long as we would quarantine athletes who were positive or in close contact, we would be able to re-enter competitions," Driedric told the Star-News.
Among those who commented during the open forum were several student-athletes and coaches who said that after last year's entire spring sports schedule was wiped out by the pandemic, they wanted to be able to participate this spring.
More than 150 people attended the meeting in person, while as many as 370 watched online via Zoom. Public commenters and those exchanging opinions on the Zoom chat room were somewhat split on the issue.
The majority generally were in favor of putting the masks and quarantines back in place while others spoke in favor of keeping masks optional, with some parents noting that younger students often found it difficult to wear face coverings properly and were happy they no longer needed them.
Also, the district wouldn't have been alone in removing mask protocols after the Wisconsin Supreme Court effectively ended a statewide mask mandate April 2 by limiting the ability to extend previous emergency orders without legislative approval.
Since then, 36 of the state's 464 school districts have ended or loosened their mask requirements along with 18 private schools as of Monday, according to a running table on the "We the Parents of WI" Facebook page, a private group advocating optional mask wearing in schools.
The district did ease its requirements during a special board meeting April 6, four days after the Supreme Court ruling, when by a 5-2 vote it decided to allow students to go without masks or any other COVID-19 restrictions outdoors, as well as not requiring masks in spaces with barriers to allow social distancing.
Those who spoke in favor of reinstating the requirements cited several reasons along with the issue over the sports teams' schedules.
Several noted that Cindy Kinnard, the county public health director, recommended the school continue its health precautions during the May 5 meeting, especially in the wake of an outbreak of positive tests for the virus and resulting close contact cases among students after an unofficial, off-campus prom in late April. Others questioned why the change was needed with less than a month to go in the school year.
Driedric said he generally supports making masks optional but the late-in-the-year change was the reason he voted against the May 5 motion. He admitted the back-and-forth may well be confusing or annoying for parents and students but added he would encourage school staff to find ways to allow students outside the buildings as much as possible in this last month of the year so they can go mask-less if desired.
"It's unfortunate," Driedric said. "We understand the challenge it is for families to be told different things, but we had to make a decision and implement it right away. It's not how we like to do business … We know COVID is not going away. We know if students are masked or unmasked, it'll still be there."
Schlender said he was a little surprised the vote to reinstate the previous requirements was unanimous given the narrow margin of the May 5 vote and the reactions he was getting from parents and the public on his email and phone since then.
"I suspected the board was going to deal with the quarantine for sure. That was the main concern for the athletics," he said. "This just went beyond the athletics.
"There's passion on everyone's part on this. Everybody's trying to find a way to get back to normal and make this work."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Masks off, masks on: Luxemburg-Casco School Board reverses decision to lift mask, COVID-19 quarantine requirements