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Seymour school board ends mask requirement

By Heather Graves

SEYMOUR – The Seymour school board unanimously approved a motion at its Tuesday, May 25 meeting to shed the district’s mask requirement in all district buildings, effective immediately.

“There are only a couple of days (of school) left,” Trustee Kurt Peterson said in making the motion. “I would prefer to give those students the chance to see their friends for the last couple of days in school. It is not going to affect anything at school, we know the statistics.”

The decision came as dozens of parents, students and community members filled the high school library carrying signs and sporting T-shirts supporting their request to the school board, to make masks optional.

There was tension even before the meeting started because several in attendance refused to wear masks, which delayed the start of the meeting by more than 15 minutes.

Attendees were asked to put on a mask or leave because at that point masks were still required in all district buildings.

After continued refusal by many in attendance, the board decided to move forward with the meeting.

“Before we get going, this isn’t going to be a free-for-all tonight or we will end it,” Board President Greg Leisgang said. “We are going to respect your opinions, you respect us as well. It is going to go both ways because otherwise is it not going to go. This isn’t going to be a cheering session. Because other people have other opinions. So let’s respect that. We are not going to go back and forth or we will ask you to leave. And if you won’t leave then we’ll end it. So you want your chance, take advantage of it.”

More than a dozen parents and community members spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting voicing their opposition to the mask policy.

“We do not take this matter lightly, and we will not go away until our voices are heard,” Seymour parent Jeneece Kust said. “It is time to take the fear out of our schools and make masks optional. What we are asking is not out of line. As of today, there are 134 schools in Wisconsin that have overturned their mandate and made masks optional and the list keeps growing.”

Some parents said the face-covering requirement is detrimental to their children’s health and well-being.

“Our first years of school are very important for social development – with face coverings children can’t see how facial expressions connect with words,” district parent Steve Kane said. “Both of our kids sit alone and quietly eat their lunches. Five- and 6-year-olds should be engaging with one another, forming the groundwork to prepare them to be successful, socially active people.”

Middle school student Jacob Gagnow said he wants school to go back to normal.

“I’m here today to beg you to stop making us wear masks,” Gagnow said. “This past year has been very difficult for us kids. We want to see our friends’ faces again.”

After a near hour of public comment, and some brief discussion from the board on possibly keeping the mandate in place until the end of the school year, trustees unanimously voted to immediately end the district’s mask mandate.

Board members said the decision was in response to the continued downward trend in COVID-19 positivity rates in the county, the increased vaccination rates of teachers and students and the district’s ability to maintain low numbers of COVID-19 cases among students and teachers.

With the school year wrapping up on Friday, May 28, and the optional masking only affecting three days of learning this school year, parents still consider it a win.

“Three days is three days,” Seymour parent Jessica Melchert said. “Thank you for listening to us, school board. Thank you for listening to the parents that showed up today, had the courage to speak what was on their minds and wanted to see their civil rights upheld.”

Masks will also be optional during summer school this June.

Looking to the 2021-22 school year, Superintendent Laurie Asher said the district anticipates a return to full in-person instruction with limited mitigation measures this fall.

“We really see the change in the last couple of weeks around that, so we are really excited,” she said. “We talk about a new normal, but the reason we say new normal is we are hoping the lessons we learned will improve things.”

Editor’s note: Read about Seymour switching to a trimester schedule for several buildings beginning with the 2021-22 school year, CLICK HERE.

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