Masking/quarantine policies kept by Green Bay School Board
By Heather Graves
Superintendent Steve Murley said the item was on the agenda to gauge the board’s thoughts on what moving forward looks like, now that students ages 5-11 are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“That is starting to roll out locally,” Murley said. “Recognizing that, we wanted to make sure that we stay abreast of the conversation here at the table.”
He said the current practices in place – for both masking and quarantine– are in line with the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).
“We continue to follow those quarantine and isolation practices, and await potential changes that come to us from DHS and from CDC,” he said. “We do the same with masking. So our facial covering requirement right now mirror those that come from the CDC and the DHS.”
According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard as of Tuesday, Nov. 9, 785 students and 56 staff members were in quarantine or isolation, with an active case rate of just under .5%.
Under the district’s current quarantine protocols, close-contact individuals who are fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine, as long as they are asymptomatic.
Murley said it’s up to the board to make any changes on mask requirements.
“I think the big question that we, as a group, have to answer is whether or not we want to continue to follow the CDC and DHS guidelines, in which case we will monitor those for you, and as changes come about, we will bring those to you for action, or, whether or not we want to consider deviating from those CDC and DHS guidelines, and then if so, what options are available to us?”
Board President Eric Vanden Heuvel said he would like to see what impacts potential changes could have.
“One of the suggestions that I would be interested in is ending our quarantines of close contacts,” Vanden Heuvel said. “I don’t believe there are any other districts around us that are still doing that practice, and that certainly gets more kids in school, more often. I would also be interested in trying that to see, how does that impact things? Do we see numbers in our district go up because we took that away? Well, then, we know that by removing that factor we saw what its impact was. Perhaps we remove it and we don’t see an increase, and the numbers continue to go down, and we know what impact that has had, versus changing a whole bunch of things at once. That would be the first step.”
Trustee Brenda Warren said she supports changing one variable at a time.
“I think getting kids in school and keeping them in school has always been one of our priorities, it is part of why we require masks to help decrease the exposure for kids, so they can be in school more,” Warren said. “I mean at some point, the CDC is going to come out with new recommendations. If they do that, I would sure want to look at what they are recommending, and if they change more than one thing, then we can consider that.”
Vanden Heuvel said he would prefer a motion with benchmarks that trigger action on the masking policy, rather than needing a special board meeting.
“Especially over the holidays and as things are moving quickly, for us to see what those recommendations are, agree to something and put those triggers in place…,” he said. “To me, it is easier than trying to coordinate a special meeting to be able to make that happen.”
Murley said recommendations brought forward are likely to include what he called “grade-banding.”
“We would look at students K-12, and then we would look at our early childhood and pre-K students as a separate population, because they are not eligible for the vaccine,” he said.
Though the concept is hard for him, Vanden Heuvel said he understands the reasoning.
“For one, I certainly don’t love the idea, but then when I look at where we have had most of our close contact, and most of our quarantines and a lot of our virtual, it’s been with our youngest kids,” he said,” and we know they are sneezing directly in each others’ faces, and the germs that happen in those kinds of classrooms are pretty significant, too. I would imagine, based upon conversations we’ve had at the board table, we’d want to do that.”
Warren agreed, saying “the conversation at least needs to take place.”
Murley said staff will bring forward a variety of recommendations for potential action on the masks and quarantine policy Dec. 13.
The district will conduct a school dress code survey during December, following a recommendation from the Policy and Governance Committee.
In October 2019, policy revisions approved by the board allowed principals the discretion to permit the wearing of headwear – hats, hoods, bandanas, etc. – in their respective buildings, with further discussion planned for the end of the 2019-20 school year.
Those follow-up conversations, however, were halted due to the pandemic.
Committee Chair Laura Laitinen Warren said the committee resurrected the discussion and identified the need to get feedback from all stakeholders through a survey.
Laitinen Warren said the survey will be sent to all middle and high school students, parents, teachers, support staff, school administrators and school resource officers.
The committee will review survey results in January.