By Lynn Binnie
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
After a nearly 90-minute discussion, the Whitewater Unified School District Board voted 6-1 on Monday, May 24 to rescind the facial coverings requirement and make them optional beginning on Wednesday, May 26. The initial motion was to rescind the requirement effective on June 10, which would have made the change apply only to summer school. The last day of school is June 9. It was indicated that, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the district is required to continue requiring masks on school buses, and masks are also required in locker rooms.
During the public comment period all nine parents and the one high school student who spoke were in favor of rescinding the facial coverings requirement immediately. It was claimed that since February 22 the district has never reported having more than one positive COVID-19 case at a time. Several parents indicated that, especially with the warmer weather and some classrooms not being air conditioned, their children are reporting increasing difficulty breathing, are experiencing perspiration, and having difficulty with anxiety and maintaining focus. It was also claimed that most of the other districts in the area are no longer requiring masks, that if the mandate was not lifted there would be additional students leaving the district for the next school year, and that there would be a negative impact on the outcome of the anticipated referendum in 2022.
The primary reservation which was expressed by several members to rescinding the mandate was that CDC, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and the Jefferson County epidemiologist are all recommending that masks continue to be required through the end of the current school year. It was this concern that Board President Casey Judd cited in voting against making facial coverings optional before summer school.
District Superintendent Caroline Pate-Hefty did not make a recommendation on the matter. Her strongest statement was that if a change was made, everyone must respect other parents’ and childrens’ personal decisions, and bullying would not be tolerated. Dr. Pate-Hefty did recommend that, effective with summer school, some of the district’s mitigation measures be modified, specifically that a 14-day quarantine only be required for those with a person in their household who tests positive, rather than to include a close contact at school, and that the symptoms of runny nose and sore throat be deleted from those which contribute to having to stay out of school for a minimum of three days. The board accepted these changes for summer school.