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In light of a surge in COVID-19 infections, the Milton School Board on Monday night voted to extend a universal masking policy and set new thresholds for student vaccination rates that, if reached, could trigger a relaxing of coronavirus mitigation rules.

The board also reduced the required isolation period for students and staff infected with COVID from 10 days to five days, in line with guidance recently updated by federal and local health officials.

Superintendent Rich Dahman cited the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance changing the recommended isolation period from 10 to five days for people infected with COVID.

After discussing the matter with officials at the Rock County Public Health Department, school district administrators recommended that the board adopt the new isolation guidelines.

A motion to implement the new isolation and quarantine protocols, effective Tuesday, passed on a 5-2 vote. Board members Leslie Hubert and Jennifer Johns voted against.

The school board voted 6-1 to continue all other safety protocols currently in place, including universal masking at all district facilities and events. Hubert was the lone no vote.

Lastly, the board discussed at length adopting new safety protocol metrics. Several board members—including Hubert, Johns and Joe Martin—took issue with one of the three metrics that must be met before the board would review its safety protocols.

Nevertheless, the board voted 4-3 to accept the new metrics. (Martin attended the meeting via teleconference from his home, where he said he was in COVID-related isolation.)

New metrics

The first metric is the number of active positive COVID cases among residents of the school district. The latest data will be reviewed every Thursday, and if the number of active positive COVID-19 cases drops below 125 or 175 for two consecutive weeks, the district will review the protocols in place.

As of Thursday, Jan. 6, there were 206.74 positive cases per 10,000 district residents.

The second metric is the number of active positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff in Milton schools.

When or if the number of active positive COVID cases among students and staff drops below 50 or rises above 100 for two consecutive weeks, the district will review its safety protocols.

The third metric involves tracking COVID-19 vaccination rates among school-aged residents. When and if COVID-19 vaccination rates meet certain thresholds, the district will review safety protocols that are in place for the whole district.

This metric was one that Hubert, Johns and Martin did not agree with.

As of Friday, Jan. 7, 33.9% of children age 5 to 11, were vaccinated. For the district to relax protocols, the percentage of fully vaccinated kids in that age group would have to be at least 50%. Among students ages 12 to 14, 58.2% were vaccinated as of Jan. 7, but the percentage would have to reach 70% in order to trigger a review. Lastly, the vaccination rate among 15- to 18-year-old students was 77.2%. The level to reach before districtwide review for this age group is 90%.

Dahman reiterated that only one of the metrics would need to be met in order to trigger a review of COVID protocols.

Hubert took issue with the proposed metrics.

“You went from the possibility of recommending mask choice to now you’re putting metrics on us to now without the ability to even discuss the issue,” Hubert said. “Why are we limiting the number of times that we can discuss this?”

Public comment

More than 60 people packed the meeting room in the school district office building. Ten residents spoke during the public comment portion, and the majority said they favored a masks-optional policy and expressed their disappointment with the school district’s leadership.

One mother said she was frustrated to see Northside Intermediate School switch to virtual learning in mid December due to a COVID outbreak among students and staff. She said she had to have her teenage daughter stay home to watch her younger sibling and supervise the younger child’s virtual schoolwork.

Another speaker accused Dahman of creating a vaccine mandate and referenced the safety protocol metric that tracks COVID-19 vaccination status. Speaker Mike Miller criticized the school board for allowing the superintendent to determine the direction of district’s COVID mitigation plans.

School board president Michael Hoffman told Miller during his time that he “on the edge of disrespect.”

Only one of the 10 who spoke Monday night voiced support for universal masking.

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