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Howard-Suamico sticking with recommended masks

By Heather Graves

SUAMICO – The 2021-22 school year is nearly upon the Howard-Suamico School District, and again the topic of masks filled the boardroom Aug. 16.

Parents and community members shared their thoughts with the school board on the district’s mask policy, which recommends, but doesn’t require, masks for all staff, students and visitors.

Some parents asked for the continued allowance to make their own decisions regarding their children’s health, while others stressed the greater good.

Meadowbrook parent Amber Stromberger said she feels strongly about the need to require masks this fall.

“If masks aren’t required… If you look around the room, people are not going to do it, they are not going to have their kids wear the mask,” Stromberger said. “And we are going to end up virtual again for most of the year, like we did last year. Or have kids out in quarantine for weeks at a time and putting that strain on families who need to be at work.”

Bay Port parent Karen Tooley said everyone’s opinion on masks is different, which makes the decision hard.

“There is not a single person in this room, on any school board, on any medical advisory board or anyone on this planet, who knows with certainty what the right answers are,” Tooley said. “For every expert who says one thing, there is another expert who says the opposite.”

She said the choice should belong to parents.

“Keeping masks optional and vaccines optional is the only right answer for our schools,” she said. “If masks work, then you are protected. If the vaccine works, then you are protected. Let those that don’t feel good about wearing masks or feel good about taking a vaccine, let them make their choice and live with that choice.”

The comments came shortly before Superintendent Damian LaCroix presented his COVID-19 fall update, which was emailed to school families Aug. 10.

“The complexity of this issue is magnified by opinions,” LaCroix said. “Ultimately, we are seeing this in communities throughout the country. We can polarize and divide, or we can stick together through the hard times and get stronger and better… Let’s bring humanity back is the theme I will be sharing with staff next week… We are all on this journey together and we all have different points of reference.”

He said he thought he was done with COVID-19 updates in June when numbers were trending downward.

“A little over a year ago, we gathered at City Stadium, for an effort I helped spearhead, knowing we couldn’t do this alone…” he said. “In some ways, I feel like we’re back at that point in time. Really, all I am asking for tonight, is how do we disagree, without dividing. I think that is really one of the bigger challenges.”

LaCroix said the pandemic is going to be over at some point, and it’s important everyone is treated with respect, regardless of their opinion on masks.

“As a community, where are we going to be – situationally, individually and collectively?” he said. “That leads to collaboration.”

LaCroix said 33 of the 37 CESA 7 districts have masks optional or recommended to start the school year, with two of the other four requiring masks for grades K-6.

He reminded everyone of the federal requirement of mandatory masks on buses.

If that mandate is removed, he said bus expectations would align with district policies.

He also stressed family choice on the use of face coverings and said harassment or bullying related to these choices would not be tolerated.

LaCroix said the consensus of the district’s medical health advisory team was to require masks.

“I told them all along they are advisory in nature to help inform decisions,” he said. “Their position as a group, their consensus was clear, and I explained the best I could of our current best thinking. If we couldn’t require it, then they felt strongly that recommending them sounds more assertive than optional.”

Board Clerk Jason Potts said he is discouraged the advisory team’s recommendation isn’t being followed in the superintendent’s plan.

“I do appreciate that we are taking into account local conditions, obviously that is one of the limitations with recommendations that the CDC provides because they are providing recommendations for the entire country…” Potts said. “I would say, though, that I am very concerned that we are not listening to the advice of the medical health advisory team when it comes to masking.”

He said the board has heard from families in the district, specifically with kids in K-6, essentially those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“Everyone of those emails has been expressing concern that masks aren’t required,” he said. “It is really a simple matter to wear a mask… so it is concerning to me that we are not adopting somewhat of a hybrid approach, like the Green Bay school district, where they are requiring it for K-6, but not the higher grade levels.”

Board member Vanessa Moran said she disagrees wearing a mask is a simple matter.

“I don’t think that what we heard would indicate that (wearing a mask) is a simple matter for some students,” Moran said. “I think for some it is. My own children, it wasn’t an issue… But, it is not as simple for others. For me and my family, this does work, for others, it does not. For me, I am grateful we are letting the parents make the choice for their own children.”

LaCroix said the administration will continue to monitor the community spread of COVID-19 and may require masks at any time if deemed necessary.

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