If as expected Dane County’s COVID-19 mask mandate expires Nov. 27, masks will be recommended but no longer required for Deerfield students participating in extracurricular activities and events outside of the school day that take place at school or are hosted by the school, the school board has decided.
Masks will continue to be required, however, during the school day at both the elementary and middle-high school and for some evening school events, until at least December.
The Deerfield School Board approved those two recommendations from Superintendent Michelle Jensen on Monday, Nov. 15. The vote was 6-1, with Katie Michel casting the dissentiing vote.
With the holidays approaching and uncertainty about how cases might spike as families get together, most board members thought waiting until after Thanksgiving would be safest to make a decision about mask wearing during the school day.
Board president Lisa Sigurslid suggested the board reevaluate district protocols during its regular meeting on Dec. 20. That would allow for a few weeks to see if cases rise after Thanksgiving, she said.
The availability of the children’s vaccine and the CDC’s recommendation to keep requiring masks for students and staff regardless of vaccination status, were factors in the recommendation, Jensen said.
Almost all of the public input given at the meeting was in favor of optional masking.
Two high school students came forward to ask that masks be optional at school. The first student described masks as a “distraction.” Impeded breathing and hearing restrictions have caused unnecessary stress, the student said.
“All we ask is to have the option to choose for ourselves,” she added. “We believe it’s time to start making an effort back into normality.”
The second student mentioned that she and her friends felt “stress and anxiety-free” during summer school because they could choose if they wanted to wear a mask.
The continued mask mandates at school, she said, makes them “feel unhappiness start to creep back in.”
Her father also spoke, saying the vote “isn’t about COVID,” but “rather about trusting your community members to make their own choice for their children.”
The discussion came down to whether discontinuing masks is an issue of setting an end date or establishing metrics for students to follow.
Michel said she believes a date has already come.
“At some point we’re going to have to take the masks off,” she said. “I just think that moment is now.”
Board member Sandy Fischer asked about setting metrics, or times and places where students can take a mask break. Fischer wondered about breaks during tests or in the library. The idea of situational masking, though, would be hard from a management standpoint, middle-high school Principal Brett Jacobson said.
“To put it situational from class to class or activity to activity with as many moving pieces as we have in our classrooms, I think that could be tough,” he added.
Jensen said that because school attendance is required, it’s important to maintain a safe and healthy school day environment to the greatest extend possible.
“We’re in this limbo of trying to find the best fit that works based on our experience,” she said.
In other news, the board approved the addition of United Against Hate as an official school group. This allows the group to raise its own funds for different activities and events they want to be a part of.
The board also reconvened an Ad Hoc Citizens Advisory Committee. The committee was previously formed to assist the school with future budget planning to explore financial issues that come up, but it was quickly halted due to the pandemic.
Anyone who is interested in joining should contact the school district office.