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Opposition to masks shown at Howard-Suamico school board

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – Two-and-a-half months after the Howard-Suamico School District returned students to in-person learning, a group of parents advocated to the school board to make face coverings optional.

Seven parents spoke to the board at the Monday, April 26, meeting to ask they be allowed to make decisions that pertain to their children’s health and safety.

“Our body puts out carbon dioxide, which is toxic for our bodies,” said Jennifer Grant, a parent who open-enrolled her children in the district. “Headaches are a sign of a lack of oxygen, which our children are complaining about every day.”

Grant said the choice should belong to the parents.

“Who should be making medical decisions for your children?” she said. “It should be the parents of the child. You are forcing medical devices on these children without parents’ consent.”

Sheryl Sylvester said many parents believe it’s time to do away with the mask requirement in schools, because the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a 4-3 ruling March 31 to strike down a statewide order from Gov. Tony Evers which required masks.

“The tone is set that a mask is needed here but not there, and this will only continue to grow confusion in our children,” Sylvester said.

She also said the board should investigate to see if there is an increased risk of kidnappings because children are unable to read a stranger’s face.

“This is no longer a pandemic,” Grant said. “What numbers or data do we need to move forward? Vaccines are available for anyone 16 and older. It is time to make masks optional.”

Shawn Sexauer also wanted to know the tipping point for a return to normal.

“The main thing that I would like to know is when is it going to get back to normal, as in no masks, they go back to school.” Sexauer said. “What’s the plan? Surely you have contingencies and plans for when this is going to play out. At some point, life needs to go on. You can’t hold everybody back for the 1 percent affected by COVID. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

After the parents spoke, Garry Sievert, who was elected board president at the meeting, said the board received 30 emails, 29 in favor of continuing to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes a mask requirement.

Sievert said the vast majority of those 29 emails were from teachers, staff or parents in the district.

After the public comment portion of the meeting ended, Superintendent Damian LaCroix gave the board a COVID-19 update, something that has become commonplace since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

“Reasonable people can disagree on any number of things,” LaCroix said. “In fact they are, they have been, and they will continue to disagree. So we’re trying to make the best decisions we can during this pandemic for the greatest number.”

LaCroix showed the board a story from WMTV, an NBC affiliate in Madison, which discussed an increase in COVID-19 positives in the suburban Madison area.

Before the video finished, the parents who want to make masks optional called the video biased in an outburst.

“Excuse me, this is a meeting of the board of public education,” board member Jason Potts told the crowd. “Your time for comment has ceased.”

LaCroix said with only 44 days remaining in the school year as of April 26, the community needs to come together, not drift apart.

“We need to cultivate within our community this ability to engage in civil discourse as we move forward,” he said.

As part of the informational update, Sievert, who is also commissioner of the Fox River Classic Conference, said COVID ended the seasons of the varsity Sheboygan North soccer team and varsity Sheboygan South football team.

Locally, the Green Bay Southwest football team missed two weeks in this spring alternate season due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

At Bay Port High School, the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” had to be postponed because a student in a lead role tested positive for COVID-19, LaCroix said.

To allow the board to gather more information, he suggested the formation of a medical health advisory committee be approved at the next board meeting May 17.

The committee would have a school board member as a representative who would report back to the board.

“If nothing else, we need to continue to strive to work together, to stay together,” LaCroix said. “Because there will be an end to this. At this end of this we will still be families, friends, coworkers and neighbors.”

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