Masks decreasing K-6 quarantines at Howard-Suamico
By Heather Graves
SUAMICO – Howard-Suamico Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the district will continue its temporary mask mandate for grades K-6, because schools housing the district’s youngest students have seen fewer quarantines since masks were made mandatory.
“Right now, as we speak, as we head into November, the position is to stay the course with temporary masking (in grades K-6), until families of students from (ages) 5-11 have the availability, access and ample time to get the vaccine (if they chose to),” LaCroix said at the Monday, Oct. 11 School Board meeting.
In the two-week period between the Sept. 27 board meeting and Oct. 11, Director of Communications Brian Nicol said the district had no additional full classroom quarantines.
Masks were mandated for all students and staff for grades K-6 Sept. 20.
“As of our last board meeting, we just started to see a drop in quarantines (even as) positive cases at that point were steady,” Nicol said. “Last board meeting we had two classrooms quarantined, with a total of 13 overall (this school year). Since that last meeting, no additional classrooms have been quarantined.”
He said overall quarantines across the district have also seen a decline – with 495 students out Sept. 20, down to 222 Oct. 12.
LaCroix said the plan for grades 7-12 will remain the same – recommended, but not required.
He said the administration will monitor conditions, and things could change if:
• The risk level moves to severe
• The Wisconsin Department of Health Services or Brown County Health Department mandates a change in policy.
• The district sees an increase in in-school spread.
• School or classroom closures increase.
• The ability to staff classes becomes an issue.
• Community hospitalization status becomes unmanageable.
“Certainly, keeping our kids in school is essential,” LaCroix said
He said the district has heard from the state regarding its application for on-site school testing, and Howard-Suamico has been paired with Prevea to administer the tests.
However, LaCroix said when testing will begin is still unknown, because operational logistics still need to be determined.
He said more information will be released soon.
LaCroix looked to the board for feedback on the district’s current quarantining procedures.
In response to requests from board and community members regarding a possible change to the district’s current protocols, he presented the board with four quarantine options ranging from the least flexibility to most flexibility.
“In the case of less flexibility, it’s more aligned to guidance we received from the Health Advisory Committee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said. “The other end of the continuum, we got more flexibility, right? And with more flexibility you got less district oversight relating to quarantine and more dependence on families and students in the decision making process. Consequently, it is not as closely aligned to the guidance of others.”
Feedback from the board varied.
Board Clerk Jason Potts said he preferred the option with the least flexibility, which would include mandatory masks for the entire district population, with the goal to keep students in school.
“If we had universal masking K-12, we’d have less kids in quarantine under any of those scenarios,” Potts said. “That one thing will have less healthy kids quarantining. We have the evidence to prove that, because we saw what it did to K-6. I know it’s not fun and nobody likes that option, but honestly, I think I am pretty comfortable with any of the four options, if universal masking was a part of it, because that is what is going to lower the number of students in quarantine, especially those that are healthy.”
Board Vice President Teresa Ford said more responsibility needs to be taken in regards to sick students.
“We do know that kids are coming to school sick,” Ford said. “That’s a problem, and I don’t know how we can fix that. For all the people that are here, I am not suggesting that any of you are doing that. I am just saying that we all know that kids are going to school sick. That is nothing new, actually either, but it seems more dangerous now.”
Others favored the option with the most flexibility, which doesn’t quarantine asymptomatic close contact individuals and has an earlier return for asymptomatic individuals with negative PCR tests.
Board Treasurer Scott Jandrin said quarantining is just a small piece of the pie.
“These kids that are being quarantined today, just going through a subdivision in Suamico during the school day they’re quarantined, (yet) there are five, six kids biking together,” he said.
All options include continued contact tracing and mandatory masks for grades K-6.
LaCroix said the administration team also varies on opinions.
“I tell you, having met with the administrative team, we haven’t had enough time yet really to process through this, but we don’t have what I’d call unanimity or complete agreement on this yet, and that is good, that is healthy,” he said. “We are wrestling with it internally, and we will benefit from board feedback. Board input is an important part of our thought process as we prepare.”
He said administration will take board feedback into consideration when making the decision.
While no specific timetable was given for a decision, LaCroix said it should happen within the next week, and an update would be discussed with the board at its Oct. 25 meeting.
LaCroix said unfortunately the topics of masks and quarantines has become a contentious topic throughout the nation.
“I bring this up not because I think it is happening here, and I wanted to be clear about that, but I bring it up because I think it is a cautionary warning about what can happen if and when we allow emotions to go unchecked and run too high, for too long in the wrong direction,” he said.
After sharing a “dramatic example” of an email he received recently from a parent, which included profanity and communist comparisons, LaCroix reiterated the theme he shared during his State of the District address two weeks earlier – “Let’s Bring Humanity Back.”
“I’m embarrassed to show you it tonight,” he said. “But, I’m showing it to you tonight because I think it is necessary and important to say ‘This is not how we are. We are bigger than this. We are better than this.’ In my 17 years (as superintendent), I can’t think of a more insulting email and the fact that someone would write this to the superintendent of schools is appalling. Again, it is an extreme and dramatic example, but our community needs to see and confront this together. That is why I am showing it to you.”
LaCroix said “it is OK to disagree.”
“It is healthy,” he said about the debate on masks. “It is good. But it is not OK to divide as a community.”
Public input policy
A request from Potts to add an item to the next meeting agenda regarding adding a policy specifically addressing public comment received full support from the board.
Potts said the possible modifications don’t change the way things are currently done, but rather documents practices into policy.
“I think it holds merit to move this to a future meeting, especially considering some of the things in (our policies) don’t even align with our practices,” Board Member Vanessa Moran said.
The policy addition will be discussed and possibly voted on Oct. 25.