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De Pere school board reaffirms COVID-19 mitigation plan

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – The De Pere school district will stick with the COVID-19 mitigation plan the school board approved in June.

The De Pere school board reaffirmed its position at its meeting July 19.

That plan calls for optional masks within schools in the district, and while students 12 and older are encouraged to get vaccinated, the district won’t make it a requirement.

In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak or a student coming into contact with a person who tests positive for coronavirus, unvaccinated students will be required to stay home from school for 10 days, or seven days after receiving a negative test.

Vaccinated students who have come into contact with an infected person won’t need to quarantine unless they show symptoms of the virus.

“We’re not requiring (the vaccine), but if you come into contact with someone testing positive and you don’t want to quarantine, then you do need to show proof of vaccination,” Superintendent Ben Villarruel said.

Just a few hours before the school board meeting, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a new recommendation that all children over age 2 wear masks in school, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.

“That differs from the CDC (policy), and it’s under debate,” Villarruel said.

He said the advice will probably change again before school starts, and the board would have to rewrite its protocol if it wants to change.

The AAP said its rationale for recommending universal masking is that many students aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet, because they’re too young; many schools do not have a system for keeping track of students’ vaccine status; and many communities around the nation have a very low percentage of the population that is vaccinated.

While masks will be optional, some parents may want their child to continue wearing a mask for any of a variety of reasons.

Board member Jeff Mirkes came up with an impromptu idea to help elementary school kids who have to wear masks to not feel awkward around their unmasked classmates: Would it be helpful to have separate classrooms for the masked and unmasked?

Villarruel said the idea had not occurred to him.

“It’s a great idea,” he said, adding the district could take a survey of students in grades K-6 to see if there would be any interest.

With the prevalence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus throughout the country, including Wisconsin, some families may want their students to continue learning online.

But, the De Pere district won’t offer the Virtual Learning Academy this fall, and there won’t be any virtual option for students who choose not to attend school in person.

“It’s just not viable for the district,” Villarruel said.

For it to make sense, he said the district would need about 20 to 25 students per grade to sign up for virtual learning.

So the solution to that – for those who don’t want to or can’t return to school in-person and want to learn from home – is to enroll in any of the Wisconsin online schools, he said.

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