By Al Stanek
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
Masks will continue to be optional in Whitewater Unified School District (WWUSD) facilities for the foreseeable future but the most recent summer session policy restrictions on the use of lunchrooms and parent visitations will be softened. Mask requirements for students, staff and drivers on system buses and vans will remain intact in order to comply with federal requirements. WWUSD District Superintendent Dr. Caroline Pate-Hefty recommended continuation of the “Mask Optional Policy,” and the board concurred, given the absence of a motion to the contrary at its August 9 meeting.
As one board member put it, “If things change, we will have to revisit the policy and the School Board is prepared to do so.”
School Board members recognized the written comments on the policy by nearly two dozen parents, staff and citizens. Dr. Pate-Hefty told school board members that of the direct contacts that she has had on the issue slightly more than half support the optional mask option with the remainder in opposition.
Dr. Pate-Hefty advised School Board members that as of August 9 a survey of area school districts indicated that 17 of 18 districts (including Jefferson, Fort Atkinson, Milton, Edgerton and Janesville) were using the “Face Coverings Optional” approach for the 2021-2022 school year.
The official WWUSD policy that will be in effect for the time being is: “Mask Wearing will be a personal decision. We support family and personal choice to wear or not wear masks. We will not tolerate bullying/harassment surrounding this choice. We will be teaching this consideration in our school community and appreciate your support at home. This is how we will build a community of acceptance.”
Individual mask requirement options are available to address “Medically Fragile Situations” according to Dr. Pate-Hefty. “Individual teams will work directly with parents and medical teams to (develop a) plan” according to provided materials.
The “Mask Optional Policy” or “No Mask Mandate – Local Flexibility” approach has been the choice selected by 48% of states issuing mask mandate policies according to Pate-Hefty with “Mask Required” the policy in 26.3% of states and “Mask Mandate Banned” in 25.1% of states with established policies.
In other business, the board voted to reopen its meetings to in-person attendance by the public beginning with the August 23 meeting, while still offering participation via Zoom. Meetings will continue to be held at the high school library for the near term, and a capacity limit will be established.
A video of the meeting, including Dr. Pate-Hefty’s presentation to the school board, is available at https://vimeo.com/585571803.