Following an Aug. 9 vote from the school board, McFarland School District will require indoor masking for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, as the 2021-22 school year kicks off this fall.

As per the board’s vote, lunchtime will be the only indoor activity that will not require a mask. Students in early childhood through eighth grade will not be required to be masked during outdoor recess, though masks will be required on school buses.

The decision comes just one week after Interim Superintendent Wayne Anderson encouraged board members to vote in line with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC).

“I know that that’s not always preferred by all individuals, but right now, Public Health Madison Dane County and the Centers for Disease Control would say that if we want to have students in person and we want to make it the safest, we should have everyone masked,” Anderson said Aug. 2.

CDC representatives released Tuesday, July 27 they are now recommending all who enter school buildings next school year, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face mask.

PHMDC followed suit later that same day, saying in a media release that “given the contagiousness of the Delta variant and a recent uptick in cases, we strongly recommend universal masking for all teachers, staff, and students in schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

Recently elected School Board Member Kate Green said that although board members are aware of the polarizing nature of masking protocol, voting in favor of mandatory masking could likely prevent the district from having to discontinue in-person learning.

“I know mask wearing is not always a popular opinion, but I think we have to look at what the goal was for this year, and to start the school year we wanted to be [in-person] five days a week full-time,” said Green. “This allows us to do that without reverting back to a virtual option really quickly. I understand that some will be disappointed by today’s decisions.”

Board members heard public comment submitted from 24 individual McFarland residents prior to their decision Monday night. 10 of those were against mandatory masking, and 14 were in favor.

Of those who spoke against mandatory masking, some cited a reported 70% vaccination rate among Dane County residents to back their stance. Others cited a perceived lower rate of COVID-19 transmission among children and supposed developmental delays caused by mask wearing in schools.

One resident said they see masks as a breathing hazard, with another describing mandatory masking as “downright abusive” to school children.

On the other side, those who spoke out in favor of mandatory masking described face masks as an “effective first line of defense” against COVID-19 and a “minor inconvenience.”

One district parent told board members that students and staff should all continue to wear masks until a larger number of children are eligible for the vaccine.

Currently, only those aged 12 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Board members said that the district will continue to encourage vaccinations for all who are eligible.

In addition to mandatory masks, the school board also approved updated guidelines for social distancing.

According to an Aug. 3 email communication sent from Anderson to district families, McFarland School District “will not be maintaining physical distancing, but rather will be spacing students as appropriate.”

Board members specified Aug. 9 that the district will, “do its best to maintain physical distancing of three feet, realizing that in some cases, ideal spacing will not be possible given classroom constraints.”

Additionally, as a COVID-19 precaution, all McFarland school buildings will continue to have increased ventilation and be monitored on a daily basis, Anderson confirmed.

The district will encourage all students and staff who may be experiencing cold or flu like symptoms to stay home, though vaccinated individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will not be required to quarantine unless they develop symptoms.

If a student or staff member is deemed a close contact with a COVID positive individual, they will have three options for quarantine: remain in isolated quarantine for 14 days, quarantine for 10 days and monitor symptoms for four days, or quarantine for seven days and receive a COVID-19 test on day six while continuing to quarantine until the test results come in.

If that test comes back negative, the individual would need to monitor symptoms for an additional seven days.

The school board will continue to discuss and potentially vote on the district’s COVID-19 protocols at the first board meeting of every month. The next regularly scheduled school board meeting will take place Aug. 16.

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