MARSHFIELD, WI (OnFocus) – Last week, the Marshfield School District School Board voted unanimously (7-0) to enforce a mask mandate during the 2021-22 school year.
The mandate was met with a lot of criticism as parents cited mental health as one of the many implications of forcing kids to wear masks while at school for a second straight year.
Sara Nikolay, organizer of the Facebook group labeled, “Return to School Task Force” said since the board’s decision, many people have joined the group in hopes of doing something about the mandate. To Join Group Click Here
“People are coming out of the woodwork,” Nikolay said. “They are telling us they are not in agreement with the school board’s decision to mandate face mask wearing at school. Failing to consider what the parents want for their kids has put a sour taste in our mouths.”
Superintendent Dr. Ryan Christianson said the plan is put in place to keep the students safe.
“Our primary goal and objective with our back-to-school plan is to keep students safe and physically present in school for as much in-person learning as possible,” Christianson said. “Starting the school year with a mask requirement is the most effective mitigation tool we have available to help us meet our goal of providing as safe a learning environment as possible for students and staff while maintaining as much in-person teaching and learning as possible.”
According to Nikolay, the school board hasn’t been heeding the words of parents throughout this process.
“We feel that we haven’t had an opportunity to be heard, and it appears that they made decisions based on their sole opinions, not to mention that there is a feeling that the Clinic has had a voice more than the people who voted them in,” Nikolay said.
Christianson said the highly contentious issue was discussed and both sides were heard from.
“Regarding feedback, certainly, we have had parents express concern about the mask requirement,” Christianson said. “However, we have also received many thankful and positive responses from parents and community members who believe masking in schools is the safe and appropriate thing to do as we start a new school year.”
Last Spring, Nikolay created the group when there was opposition to sending kids back to school for spring. She said after dealing with the virus for over a year now, people have been able to do their own research and can help make decisions for their children.
“People are more educated. They are doing their due diligence and making their own opinions based on a multitude of things-science yes, but also our kids well-being both in the physical and mental,” Nikolay said. “We saw our children lose out on so much, struggle in school, and some give up entirely. We are not going to stand by and allow that to happen again.”
The mandate doesn’t require kids to wear masks when outdoors or during athletic events.
Wearing masks would allow for infected classrooms to avoid being quarantined as long as the students or faculty in the room don’t have symptoms.
If the school were to return without masks and a person in a classroom were to test positive, that person’s classroom would have to quarantine regardless of whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic.
Marshfield School Board President Frances Bohon said she understands the parents concern with the impact of wearing masks on their children’s mental health but being out of school would be damaging as well.
“They’re right,” Bohon said. “But there are other issues related to not being able to be in school too. Keeping them in school is the beginning and then getting to masks optional would be where we’d like to be.”
Bohon said right now COVID-19 infection numbers in Wood County are higher than they would like them to be but the mask mandate wouldn’t be permanent if that number went down.
“We added the clause that we could give the Superintendent that flexibility to stay in-touch with the health department on the [COVID-19] numbers and if we start going down again, we could switch gears and go to masks being optional,” Bohon said.
Bohon added that she thought between the letters, emails, phone calls and in-person commentary on the issue which had begun weeks in advance of last week’s school board meeting, the support and criticism of returning to school with masks was split evenly.
Last year, approximately 4,000 students attended the seven schools in the Marshfield district. The school also employed 266 teachers, 21 administrators, and 167 support personnel during the 2020-21 school year.
At the time of publication, the district has responded to requests of the video recording of the school board meeting. They said the recording does not exist at this time.
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