Whether Deerfield summer school students can take off their masks indoors will be up to teachers.
Summer school begins June 14, nearly two weeks after all Dane County COVID-19 masking and other rules sunset on June 2.
The Deerfield School Board voted 6-1 at a special meeting on June 7 to let teachers decide if students are in close enough proximity to each other, such as when playing a cooperative game, that wearing masks is a good idea. Katie Michel dissented.
When students are more distanced, such as when working independently at a desk, teachers can allow masks to come off.
Superintendent Michelle Jensen said masks will be entirely optional outside, as has been the case since late spring.
Face masks will still be required in school hallways and when on school buses and school vans.
Jensen stressed that all students or staff are welcome to wear a mask at any time.
“We really need to keep saying this, that students and staff need to feel very welcome to wear a face covering at any time. You should feel like that’s an appropriate action for you to take,” Jensen said.
Jensen said the recommendation to the school board was based on low local case counts in the Deerfield area and a rising vaccination rate.
Deerfield Elementary School Principal Melinda Kamrath said that in recent conversations, summer school teachers told her they were comfortable taking on the responsibility.
“They were hesitant if we just went to ‘no one has to wear them at all,’” Kamrath said. “They felt a little better that we are going to take small steps toward things.”
Michel urged the board the make masks optional, as other area school districts including Cambridge are doing this summer.
“I would really like to have more discussion on allowing our children’s faces to be freed,” which she said is key to physical and mental well-being.
“If we’re not taking the masks off now when are we going to?” Michel questioned. “I think it’s really cool that (Cambridge) had the courage to say masks are optional, and I think we could have that, too.”
But in voting to leave mask wearing up to teachers, other board members said they were acknowledging that children under age 12, which constitutes most attending summer school, cannot yet be vaccinated against COVID-19. They also said it sticks with the school district’s ongoing approach to take small steps back toward normalcy, rather than sudden leaps.
“I think courage can be defined either way,” school board member Autumn Knudtson said. “Maybe the courage is to actually mask.”
“I feel like we should trust the teachers to do a good job with this,” school board member Melissa Frame said.
School board members and administrators said there will be an opportunity after the June summer school session to assess the situation and to make changes in July.
The “Phasing into Summer,” policy adopted by the school board also:
• Allows vaccinated staff who aren’t directly interacting with students to take off their masks, to have group meetings and to work with an open classroom or office door. Masks are recommended for unvaccinated staff.
• Going into the spring tournament season, reduces from 14 to 6 days the time that non-vaccinated student athletes must quarantine if they have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Vaccinated athletes who come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19 don’t have to quarantine if symptom free.
• Ends the policy of sending home siblings or other household members of a student who comes to school sick with COVID-19-like symptoms, who has not tested positive, and/or no longer requires them all to stay home. Jensen said experience is now showing that, with case counts low and vaccinations rising, most students’ symptoms turn out not to be COVID-19 related. And vaccinated students and staff no longer need to quarantine if there is a positive test in their household, Jensen said. The only time other members of a household would need to quarantine is if they are not vaccinated and someone in that household tests positive, Jensen said.
• Masks are now optional for vaccinated users of the fitness center at Deerfield High School, and recommended for non-vaccinated users.