Effective immediately, the Waterloo School District will no longer require students, staff or visitors to wear masks while on school property. The decision was made at Monday’s board meeting, which featured nearly 25 minutes of public comment where many speakers were adamant about not requiring face coverings.

The board voted in favor of rescinding the masking requirement 4-1 with Vice President Kate Lewandowski voting no; board Treasurer Karen Stangler and member Charles Crave were absent from the meeting.

The board informer packet, which was provided to the school board members on Friday, showed Superintendent Brian Henning suggested the board return back to standard operations, which would remove the face covering requirement for summer school and the regular academic year starting in fall, the pool, fitness center, and any other activities conducted in the school building.

His recommendation was based on current data including low coronavirus case numbers across the district, minimal spread in the school, and family survey results. According to the superintendent, there was a 50% response rate to the survey with 80% noting face coverings should not be required.

However, as part of the recommendation, Henning said should conditions change in the future, a mask policy and COVID-19 safety precautions could be considered for reimplementation in the future.

Lewandowski had wanted the district to require face coverings for any children ages 11 and younger while indoors at school until a vaccine would be available to that age group.

“We know that kids who are 9 and under don’t spread (the virus) the same, but kids who are 10 and 11 spread COVID the same as adults,” she said. “We also know that while kids aren’t as likely to have the severe effects or to die from COVID, we also don’t know the long-term effects.”

Lewandowski felt the district’s procedures and Center for Disease Control guidelines had served the schools very well during the past academic year. She expressed concerns about getting rid of the mitigation measures too fast in light of the youngest students in the district unable to get vaccinated.

Clerk Debra Stein said the decision should be up to the parents, who could determine whether their student should wear a face covering to school.

Several parents who spoke during the public comment said families should be able to make the decision as to whether their students wore face coverings or not.

Parent Janelle Lauersdorf said she knew for a fact that school staff were not enforcing the mask mandate. Additionally, she said as a person who works in the healthcare field she sees the real COVID-19 data, “not TV data numbers” every day.

“The TV news makes it look scary,” she said.

Furthermore, she said while less than half of the state has been fully vaccinated, the numbers do not include the people who have developed a natural immunity because they had the virus.

“I hope masks won’t be mandated but with that being said, my son will be attending school five days a week next year and will not be wearing a mask, no matter what you say,” said parent Craig Wolff, who also noted people should stop watching the news and media because it is getting “out of hand. I believe if we just stop and use some common sense this will go away. With that being said, I’m tired of talking about this.”

One man, who commented via video online and did not provide his name, compared wearing masks to Jewish individuals who forced to identify by wearing yellow Star of David during the World War II era. Several people who were attending in person and virtually decried the comment.

Multiple parents talked about how their children needed to attend school remotely because they could not or did not want to wear a mask; the individuals said their students struggled with remote learning but had no choice in how they received instruction.

Stein said she received more than 57 calls from people who were “very much against the mask mandate.”

Lewandowski said while the conversation at the meeting surrounded masks, the board also needed to look at what procedures it would take in the future such as screening for sending children home if they are sick or if the district would continue to make calls to those families whose children were in close contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus.

Other board action:

• Approved hiring Cianna Kruckenberg for the middle school ELA position, Jacob Nachtigal for elementary school music teacher, Emily Scharenbroch for high school ESL teacher, Krita Kaltenberg as a third grade teacher, Nathan Campbell as middle school special education teacher, Megan Due for intermediate school special education teacher, and McKinzie Comer for speech and language pathologist.

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