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De Pere parents irked at district’s COVID-19 policies

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – The topic of masks in schools continues to dominate the educational landscape, especially in De Pere.

The Monday, Sept. 20, De Pere School Board meeting again saw parents upset with the board about the district’s policy of mandatory masks in grades K-6.

Masks are strongly encouraged for grades 7-12.

Parents were also upset about coronavirus anti-contagion efforts for the upper grades, such as quarantining, and what some parents called discrimination against unvaccinated students.

One parent, Susan Deutsch, threatened to file a lawsuit over invasion of privacy and accused the board of not responding to her emails.

District policy prevents board members from responding to comments or speaking on behalf of the board during public forums.

Another parent, Annemarie Cummings, criticized the board for taking the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and testimony of doctors.

Cummings said doctors have bad things to say about COVID-19 because they only see cases in the ICU.

She said her child was quarantined twice without being sick.

Chiropractor Susan Frain said due to quarantines her daughter learned virtually for much of her junior year last year and fell behind.

Susan Netzel gave the board a lecture on the concept of natural immunity.

She said for about three months after people have COVID-19, antibodies exist, and the district should take that into consideration when it comes to its quarantine policy.

Under the district’s quarantine policy, if someone is exposed to someone with COVID-19, is asymptomatic and is vaccinated, or both parties were masked, or they had COVID-19 within the previous 90 days they don’t have to quarantine.

Quarantines are 10 days without a COVID-19 test or seven days after testing negative (via PCR test) taken five days after exposure.

Substitute teacher Stephanie MacManus said she turns down almost daily job calls from De Pere elementary schools because she doesn’t want to wear a mask.

The topic was up for discussion Sept. 20 because, at the start of the school year, the board said it would review the district’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies monthly.

The board didn’t vote on anything this week, but will vote whether to change the policy at its next meeting, Oct. 4.

Superintendent Ben Villarruel said the board should consider the rate of new cases in Brown County and the future availability of a vaccine for younger students.

According to the county’s dashboard as of Wednesday, Sept. 22, the burden rate was 497.8 cases per 100,000 people, which is considered very high.

Board member Dan Van Straten questioned why the district would place so much weight on Brown County numbers.

“What happens in the schools mirrors what’s happening in the county,” Villarruel said. “It’s a proxy for the county, a microcosm.”

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, 239 students were quarantined in the district, as of Tuesday, Sept. 21.

“Our students move about freely and most don’t wear masks,” De Pere Middle School Principal Adam Kraemer said.

Kraemer said his school had about six positive cases.

The dashboard showed 28 active cases in De Pere schools as of Sept. 21.

The district is trying to keep the numbers of students quarantined lower this year by limiting quarantines to close contacts, rather than entire classrooms, and limiting the number of kids at a lunch table to four.

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