DeForest Area Public Library

Although county health mandates have been lifted, DeForest Area Public Library staff have opted to continue facemask use and will ask unvaccinated patrons participating in indoor programs to continue wearing them. As opposed to most county and municipal administrative buildings, the library is frequented by children, many 11-years-old and younger, who are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

At the June 2 DeForest Village Board Committee of the Whole meeting, trustees agreed to return to unrestricted in-person meetings, though elsewhere in the village some events continue with more caution.

In their recent meeting, via Zoom, the board discussed a return to Village Hall with Village Clerk LuAnn Leggett, who explained that with no more Dane County mandated distancing, they would also be able to effectively record meetings for streaming and archives.

Based on discussion in staff meetings, Leggett reported that village employees were comfortable with maskless operation in Village Hall, while being willing to put on masks if incoming visitors were concerned about safety. Not all public administrators in the village have been going so far as of yet.

In part due to the number of students who are too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the DeForest Area School District is continuing a policy of requiring masks indoors for those sharing space with students in kindergarten through 6th grade.

The Public Health Madison and Dane County announcement lifting the mask mandate also specified that although overall conditions surrounding COVID-19 infection have improved, precautions are recommended in recognition of those who continue to be at risk.

“Because not everyone is able to get vaccinated, particularly our kids younger than 12, Public Health recommends that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks in indoor public spaces,” the statement explained. “In addition, healthcare settings and public transportation will continue to require masks. Other businesses or organizations may also choose to continue masking policies.”

Trustee William Landgraf, who represents the Village Board on the DeForest Area Public Library Board, sought guidance from Village Board members on forming a response to the the library’s draft policy statement as it would be presented to the public, which in part read:

“In order to attend in-person, indoor programs offered by and/or at the library, face masks as defined in previous PHMDC emergency orders are required for unvaccinated individuals ages 2 and above. Social distancing for these unvaccinated individuals attending in-person, indoor, programs is also required.”

Landgraf expressed particular concern over specific mention of “unvaccinated individuals,” saying that “it creates two classes of people,” a sentiment seconded by Trustee Rebecca Witherspoon.

Trustee Abigail Lowery gave her support to the proposed statement, noting that the dynamics at the library are different from Village Hall, where children are rarely present. The intent, as Lowery said she read the statement, was in being pro-active and setting expectations, and not about making any visitors feel uncomfortable.

“Basically because they are their own entity and organization, and they understand their patrons and staff best,” said Lowery, “and if they feel this is the best route forward, I support that.”

Trustee Taysheedra Allen expressed concern over the “strong language” and the possibility of a mixed message. A policy of asking vaccination status raised red flags, Allen told the board, in terms of delving into personal health information.

“I just hope that they look at the wording a little bit and really address how strong the language is and the message they may be sending,” said Allen. “On face value I wouldn’t support how this document as it is currently written, but I do support the library having a sense of autonomy of how they want to keep their workers and their patrons safe.”

Although no vote was taken, Landgraf told the board that he would convey the sentiment of the Village Board at the Library Board’s next meeting.

Two days later at the Library Board meeting, Library Director Jan Berg explained the proposed statement as being a matter of recommending and encouraging, but not something that would be strictly enforceable.

“And we would just like to be able to enforce it a little bit in programs, with children in particular...so that’s where that’s coming from,” said Berg. “This lets library staff have a little bit of something to point to going forward.”

Following a motion to approve the policy and a second, Landgraf described the Village Board’s position as recognizing the autonomy of the Library Board, but being in opposition to the statement, with any reference to vaccination unacceptable.

“And I have a granddaughter who is going to be 5,” said Landgraf, “and I hope she doesn’t get vaccinated--but that’s just my opinion.”

Library Board President Kathy Van Iten asked Landgraf for clarification, not sure what was the core of the Village Board’s objection.

“There are some different thoughts on vaccinated people and whether you should get vaccinated or whether you don’t,” said Landgraf. “And this policy creates two kinds of people and confusion--people are confused enough.”

Confusion was an unacceptable reason for dismissing the policy, according to Library Board member Peter Zeimet, pointing out that it is backed by current science and public health recommendations.

“The enforcement is on the honor system,” said Zeimet, “but I do have a problem with people who are unvaccinated going into public places indoors without a mask, because they are potentially harming people who are also there who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons, so you’re putting them in harm’s way and that’s not fair to them.”

“Putting people in harm’s way--there’s no science there,” said Landgraf.

“Well, we’re in a global pandemic,” said Zeimet, highlighting the established facts of COVID-19 transmission and prevention.

“There could be, or there couldn’t be,” Landgraf argued, “and it’s whoever you follow--the CDC says one thing one week and the PHD says another thing and it changes back and forth.”

Berg emphasized that the policy would not bar anyone from entry to the library, but would only pertain to people who are personally attending programs in closed rooms where social distancing isn’t possible.

In a question to Berg, School District Superintendent and Library Board member Eric Runez confirmed that beyond children who are obviously too young to have been vaccinated, the enforcement would purely be a matter of the honor system.

“My biggest concern is putting staff in a difficult position to have to enforce something that they can’t,” said Runez.

Berg confirmed that it would be on the “honor system,” saying that with a statement of “required” or “recommended,” that even now, there is no way to really know people’s vaccination status.

Before a vote Berg ran through the revised phrasing in which those attending programs are “strongly recommended” to wear face masks if they are unvaccinated and over the age of 2.

The revised statement was approved by the Library Board with Van Iten, Vice President John Englesby, Greg Gorres, Runez, and Zeimet, voting for and Landgraf voting against.

Editor’s Note: In the interest of transparency, it should be noted that Witherspoon is a sales representative for APG Southern Wisconsin. Witherspoon does not have any control over the news content of this newspaper.

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