Masks at Amery Schools

According to parent survey results from a questionnaire sent out to families by the School District of Amery, an overwhelming amount of families want to see school return to in person learning this fall and they will get their wish.

The recommendation passed by the Board of Education is to reopen the Amery schools Sept. 1, for the 2020-2021 school year. Amery schools will be in session for an in person, five-day school week with many safety measures in place for students and staff.

In the first of two meetings of Amery’s Board of Education during the month of July, it was stated masks would be required for all staff and highly recommended for students. A week later, those sentiments had changed. July 20, the board voted unanimously to require masks for all.

In grades K-5 students will be required to wear masks, except for times when they are with their cohorts (same group of students in one classroom) thus, wearing masks when traveling through hallways. Grades 6-12 will wear masks in classrooms as well.

District Administrator Shawn Doerfler said a lot changed over the past week. He said last week, one school in Polk County was implementing mandatory mask wearing. It was also the only school with that requirement in CESA 11 (39 schools of northwest Wisconsin). This week had 9 out of 39 schools move to mask requirements. “There is a lot of conversation going on. My estimation is by September 1, you will see close to 39 out of 39,” said Doerfler.

“If we are going back to school five days a week and we really can’t reasonably expect to social distance and we are not wearing masks, we are asking for trouble,” he said.

Doerfler read off a list of national chain businesses that are now requiring masks in their stores.

There will be exceptions made to the mask requirements for those with conditions making mask wearing difficult.

Board member Erin Hosking supported masks. She said by saying masks are only recommended, you might see maybe 50% of students wearing them.

Board member Char Glenna said, “I echo Erin’s sentiments that we want kids in school five days a week, we know we need them here for their best education. When you talk about private businesses wearing masks, saying it is because research shows it slows the spread of the virus, I would argue that may not be the entire reason those places require masks. They want customers to feel safe. I have a strong problem with putting masks on our children and reopening schools SAFELY; I think it would be SAFER not SAFELY because that gives people a very false sense of security.”

Glenna said it is their job as a board to write policy, then it has to be figured out how and who will enforce policies. “Are we creating more problems by mandating something for kids 100% versus based on ‘What if’,” said Glenna.

Hosking said, “I think we understand that not everyone is going to be happy if we require masks or don’t, there are going to be people upset. Ultimately our staff does not have a choice other than quitting their job. I feel like we need to help make it safer. As much as this is going to make some people upset, we do have the option of distance learning for those refusing to participate with wearing masks, but I feel like we need to honor the requests of our staff.”

557 families responded to a survey that covered topics concerning virtual learning last spring and the future of schooling in the fall. Of those, 500 said they were likely or certain they would send their children back to school in the fall.

Doerfler said a majority of responses showed families wanted their children in school five days a week and did not want them required to wear masks.

The largest complaint from families concerning virtual learning had to do with internet issues. Doerfler said internet issues were not the fault of any local internet providers, but instead the problem was due to the fact that an overwhelming amount of people were trying to learn and work from home.

Board member Char Glenna asked if there was an option on the table for those not comfortable with sending their children back to school. “Absolutely, positively,” responded Doerfler.

151 district employees participated in a similar survey. Doerfler said employees do have safety concerns regarding returning to school. Responses to the survey question “As a staff member, I would feel safer if the following measures were implemented in the fall” saw the highest checks next to the answers: Social distancing is in place and Staff wear masks Board member Dale Johnson asked, “Are we aware of any staff that would not want to come back to school because of COVID-19?”

Doerfler said, “No one has declared that intent to me or any district principal that I am aware of. Are there folks that are concerned? I would say with certainty there is, but no one has articulated, ‘I am not coming back to school.’”

District leaders from all Polk County schools have been meeting to come up with a similar plan to roll out for students to return to school. Over the past week, schools have been sharing the information with their district’s families. Guidance received from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Polk County Health Department and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association helped form school re-opening decisions.

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