In a special school board meeting, Bruce school board members voted to approve optional masks during summer school.

About 75 community members attended the April 22 meeting to discuss the special topic of whether or not masks should be worn during the two summer school session at Bruce School. 

In the regular school board meeting held Monday, April 12 school board members voted 5-2 to approve wearing masks through the remainder of the school year. Masks will not have to be worn beginning in the school year this fall.

Fourteen community members spoke during the meeting.

Many community members pointed to the growing evidence that COVID-19 does not affect children to the same extent as older populations and that the summer school program is an optional program for students.

Parent Kyle Craemer argued that children as a group are least susceptible to COVID-19 and are most likely to suffer long-term developmental and psychological issues as a result of wearing a mask. Craemer requested to make a motion to nullify the motion to require mask wearing for the remainder of the school year.

Parent Lucas Kirk pointed to mounting evidence that masks are harmful children. Kirk said that if staff members are concerned about transmitting COVID-19 to students, they should have the choice of whether or not to wear masks. He asked, “when is enough, enough?”

Community member Mike Robers said he believes some of our freedoms have been taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic. He requested the choice of wearing a mask be left to the discretion of each family. Robers expressed concern for mask wearers breathing back in what should be exhaled and not continued to be breathed back in. 

Rusk County Public Health Officer Amanda Weinert said there are a lot of different beliefs and opinions about wearing masks and she asked for individuals to be responsible. Weinert pointed to the medical experts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, American Academy of Pediatrics and Department of Health Services who all recommend wearing masks.

Rusk County Public Health Officer Anita Zimmer pointed to the emerging COVID-19 variants that are affecting individuals 18 and under with only 16 and 17 year olds just recently being able to be vaccinated. “The vaccine is very, very effective,” said Zimmer.

“Without masks other viruses are floating around, there’s less effectiveness”, said Zimmer who added the school could see a higher rate of absenteeism without everyone wearing masks.

Staff member Tonya LaRock requested the school keep in place mask wearing in small groups to keep everyone safe.

Community member C.J. Cordell said there needs to be freedom for people to make their own choices. The seasonal flu has a higher death rate than COVID-19, according to Cordell. Some of the COVID-19 vaccines being administered have made some individuals ill with adverse side effects and has caused at least 3,486 deaths, according to the CDC.

Parent Kim Schmitz requested to make masks optional. She said, “I don’t understand if someone has their vaccination why they are afraid to take masks off? What’s the point of the vaccine?”

Parent Candice Sorenson pointed to other area schools who have decided to make masks optional through the rest of the school year and requested masks be at least optional in summer school. 

A returning teacher said that she understands wearing masks is a tough decision and hoped board members would consider keeping masks on while indoors. She also said that she hoped that if masks were optional, a plan would be clearly in place in the event of a need for quarantine.

Parent Morgan Robers requested the current mask requirement be lifted otherwise she would consider looking at a different school district.

Teacher Leah Moore said all of the teachers are worried about the health of the students and not of themselves. “I’m doing my best to keep them safe,” said Moore and added “I don’t want to be shut down again, these kids need school.” She pointed to the stress levels of kids is high because of what the adults are saying.

Parent Brian Hagstrom said he wishes the school had sent out a survey to parents to get a feel for where parents stood on the mask issue before it was decided. Hagstrom expressed hope that the school board would voted to make masks optional during summer school.

Community member Pam Kley was in favor of making masks in summer school optional and said, “we are harming children because of our fear.” She added, “we have a right to decide what is best for our children.”

During school board member discussion the school board members each recognized that summer school is an optional program, much of the time students are outside and with fewer students enrolled than regular school, the choice for optional masks is more available.

School board member Steve Golat said the summer school program is very good for kids and voiced that he would like to make masks optional for anyone attending summer school.

School board member Whitney Trott agreed that with so much outside time, masks should be optional.

School board member Andrea Vohs said, “ I want people of different views to know we did everything for health…empathy is a good lesson for kids to learn.” Vohs voted to have masks be worn indoors but that students spend as much time outside as possible.

School board member Jodi Hopkins voted to make masks optional due to there being fewer students and greater opportunity to spread students out to maximize social distancing.

School board member Dan Kempen recognized there being fewer students participating in summer school than regular school making it easier to practice social distancing and that the students will spend more time outside. He requested that masks be worn on school buses and optional during other times.

School board member Andy Anderson said the decision whether or not to wear masks is a tough decision and while summer school is an optional program, the school would still like to see as many kids as possible participate. Anderson voted to make masks option during summer school.

School board president Dan Robers pointed to some of the surfacing research and said that it is finding the COVID-19 vaccine “does not kill the virus, it helps your body recognize the virus so you don’t get as sick.” Robers has been a strong supporter of optional mask wearing.

Robers believes that continuing to require mask wearing will take the school into the fall, following the second session of summer school and asked, “when is enough, enough?”

Bruce School District Administrator Pat Sturzl said that if there are COVID-19 cases that emerge during summer school that Rusk County Public Health, RCPH would work with the school. The emergence of three COVID-19 cases that require contact tracing would likely require RCPH to require masks. 

School board members voted 6-1 to not require masks during summer school. 

The next Bruce school board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m., Monday, May 10.

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