As neighboring school districts have hosted board meetings lasting hours filled with public input on whether masking should be optional or universal as the 2021-22 academic year gets underway, there was only one public comment at the Marshall School Board’s Aug. 18 meeting – a parent requesting the district continue universal masking for students and staff.
One day before the board met, Public Health Madison & Dane County issued an order requiring face coverings for anyone age 2 and older when in any indoor public space including schools starting Aug. 19 through Sept. 16. Just like during the 2020-21 school year, the district needs to follow any orders issued by PHMDC.
However, even before the mandate was issued, the board directed District Administrator Dan Grady earlier in the month to create a back-to-school plan that included starting the year with students, staff and visitors required to wear face coverings regardless of vaccination status.
Unlike the PHMDC order, the Marshall masking decision does not have a sunset date.
The superintendent said there may be some exceptions to masking, which will be worked out between families and school staff.
Grady said there were three goals for the mitigation strategies: return to in-person learning; the health and safety of students, staff, and families; and minimizing the number of people who get COVID-19.
According to data from PHMDC, the average number of cases is 96.1 per day, he said.
“If we predict forward, we’d see more and more concern,” Grady said.
Anyone in an indoor district facility will be required to wear a mask, this includes all activities.
Due to the mandate, any student who is taking part in a school-sponsored event, such as a field trip or athletic contest, must abide by the indoor face covering requirement even when not on school property. For example, if the volleyball team plays at a school where masking is optional, the Marshall students will still need to wear a face covering.
Face coverings will continue to be required while riding in school transportation including buses.
The district administrator said the implementation of masks for all would decrease the need for physical distancing, strict cohorts and quarantine due to exposure..
Grady said Dane County superintendents are asking PHMDC to reconsider a portion of the order that does not allow for practicing woodwind instruments inside.
In addition to face coverings, other mitigation strategies the district will employ are physical distancing of 3-feet or more to the greatest extent possible, replacing drinking fountains with water bottle filling stations, encouraging frequent hand washing, access to cleaning supplies, and having an air quality study completed.
The Marshall School District is also partnering with an outside vendor, assigned by the state Department of Health, to provide rapid tests to the schools. If a student or staff member who is at one of the schools exhibits symptoms of COVID-19, they will have access to taking a test to determine if the virus is present.
“The hope is that a symptomatic individual comes to the isolation room and is either tested there or in the parking lot,” Grady said. “It will be quite a service for sick individuals once someone is identified as symptomatic. We’ll give them that option to be tested.”
Each school building will continue to have an isolation room that was instituted when in-person learning resumed during the 2020-21 school year.
Grady reminded the board the plans are fluid and are created in collaboration with guidance from health departments.
“We know that we are going to look at these situations in our office case-by-case, we sure hope it doesn’t mean closure of a building or cancellation of activities but we certainly need fluidity through a very unpredictable pandemic,” the superintendent said.
Other return to learning procedures
When it comes to quarantining, the district is following the CDC guidance, which differs based on whether it is a student or adult who tests positive, vaccination status, if they were in close contact and the presence of masks.
In the staff return to learning plan, it was outlined that any staff member in the district will need to take sick days if they are at home due to COVID-19. Teachers will not be asked to provide lessons remotely. Grady said this creates equity for those non-teacher staff members who are unable to work from home.
As for students who are out due to the virus, it will be similar to any other illness that would keep them home.
“We will do everything to keep the student growing and learning but we won’t offer synchronous learning,” the district administrator said.
Instead, families will connect with teachers on how to access school work via Seesaw or Google Classroom.