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Green Bay reestablishes district-wide mask mandate

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – It’s an about-face for the Green Bay school district.

The school board voted unanimously at an Aug. 18 special meeting to reinstate the mask requirement for all grade levels as students and teachers prepare for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

The rise in Brown County positive cases, and a change in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations regarding masks, prompted the board to call the special meeting.

“Given a bunch of changes that have happened since we last talked about masking, which was back in July, we wanted to have another conversation,” Board Member Dawn Smith said. “The day after we voted on our masking policy, the CDC came forward and changed their recommendations for masking for everyone in K-12 schools. We have also seen Brown County – when we met in July – Brown County was at medium. We are now at high. We have seen the numbers increase in Brown County considerably.”

The decision comes less than a month after the board loosened its requirements for the district’s older grades – requiring masks in grades 4K-6, or those not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“Some people will be unhappy with my vote, but COVID is 20 times higher than when I thought it was maybe time we were ready to loosen up a little bit,” Board Member Andrew Becker said.

An amendment was added to the motion to include language regarding an automatic trigger for a special board meeting if the seven-day positive case average in Brown County drops to under 100 cases per 100,000 population, to reevaluate the masking requirement.

Board Member Nancy Welch voted “no” on the amendment, saying the back and forth isn’t effective.

“This is a pandemic,” Welch said. “It is not like mumps coming back. It’s like way beyond anything I have experienced before. And it seems like we are just holding it down just enough so we can go again, and then it comes back… I want the kids back in school, I don’t want parents to have to find quarantine places, and their education is just too important… And whatever we can do to keep them (in school), let’s do it.”

Trustee Laura Laitinen-Warren said the amendment highlighting a possible change in the future creates common ground.

“One common ground I was able to come up with, with one of the gentlemen I spoke with, was to at least give something that people can look forward to within the motion…” Laitinen-Warren said. “Even though there is going to be differing points of views on who they trust in for experts, that may never be able to be resolved. But can we come to some sort of common ground, and something that everyone can look to to feel like we are going to get back to some type of normalcy in the near future… And come together as a community the best we can and start being kind and civil to one another on a regular basis again.”

Superintendent Steve Murley said staff will review county data each Friday and communicate with board leadership if a special meeting is warranted for the following week.

The Aug. 18 special board meeting was held virtually without public comment, something Becker said he didn’t agree with.

“Meetings on important, controversial topics, while it may be uncomfortable to have public comment, I strongly believe that public comment, whether we are virtual or in-person, should be allowed, and I just wanted to make that clear,” he said. “Maybe there needs to be a bigger board decision about that. I also think we should be in-person with a Zoom option unless there are safety concerns… I would hope if we have this next meeting when we have this meeting, when cases get that low, that we will choose to have an open forum to it.”

Murley said the district has seen a sizable increase in enrollment in Green Bay’s online school recently – pushing the total of 4K-5 kids enrolled to more than 100.

He said more than 75 additional secondary students have also enrolled in John Dewey Academy for Learning, the virtual option for grades 6-12.

“And we are getting emails from community members who are moving their children into our district from outside of our district, and directly attributing it to the attention you, as a board, have made to appropriate mitigation,” Murley said.

Day-to-day operations

Just two days prior, on Aug. 16, Murley walked the Operations Committee through a detailed plan for day-to-day procedures for the upcoming school year.

He said though most procedures presented Aug. 16 will remain the same – the board’s updated mask policy will affect the district’s quarantining guidelines.

“When we look at quarantine, there are a couple of things that are really important to understand, and probably the biggest is the role masking plays when you look at CDC recommendations,” Murley said. “If we have adults and students masked in school… for the fully-vaccinated that have no symptoms, they are asymptomatic is the term, and they have close contact with a COVID-positive person, they would not need to quarantine… Fully-vaccinated people who are symptomatic, while they are awaiting their test results if they had contact with COVID-positive person – again they would not need to quarantine.”

Murley describes masks in relation to quarantine requirements as a “game-changer.”

“Vaccinated or unvaccinated students (and staff) who have close contact with a COVID-positive individual, and they have ‘correctly and consistently masking during that time, and have maintained their physical distance of 3 feet or more,’ the CDC is saying those students do not have to quarantine,” he said. “If our intentionality is to get kids into class, into school, and then keep them in school, clearly according to the CDC, having students and staff ‘correctly and consistently masked’ has an incredible impact on requirements on students and staff having to quarantine.”

School site testing

A new addition this year is on-site testing.

Murley said the district is partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to offer free COVID-19 testing at district schools.
He said school-based testing is one more layer of protection which “helps all students continue to attend school in person safely, keep our schools open and allow our children to do the activities they love.”

“As a district right now, we have a 24-hour or less turnaround time with our health partners to get those tests back,” Murley said.

Parental permission is required for testing.

Other mitigation measures

All staff and students will be required to complete a daily symptom screener through Classlink or through the district’s mobile app, before coming to school.

Similar to last year, Murley said parents/guardians are asked not to send their children to school when sick or displaying COVID-like symptoms, including fever, cough, difficulty breathing or new loss of taste or smell.

Per federal guidelines, all drivers, students and staff will continue to be required to wear masks while on school buses.

Masks will continue to be optional outside for all students and staff.

Murley said the district will continue to physical distance 3 feet or greater whenever and wherever possible and continue regular cleaning protocols in all classrooms/schools, with additional disinfecting happening when a positive case has been identified.

He said water fountains will be open with students and staff encouraged to use water bottles.

Other procedures include:

• Visitors, volunteers and community partners will also be required to complete a symptom screener, before entering school buildings.

• In-person field trips will again be allowed.

• All served food will be prepackaged.

• Assigned seating will be used where possible, with every attempt made to socially distance.

• There will be no restrictions on the number of spectators at athletic events and other activities.

• In-person meetings indoors must follow district guidelines, including social distancing, and must allow for virtual attendance for those who are not comfortable attending in-person.

• Plexiglass will be optional.

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