Superintendent Jamie Benson presented the school board and community with three options for the incoming school year’s Covid-19 prevention and mitigation plans on Aug. 2. Benson also included expert opinions from research, including statements from the American Association of Pediatrics, the Center for Disease Control and Public Health, all which recommend students wear masks indoors.
We wanted the public to know that we are listening not only to the community but to the experts and we want to be transparent about that, said Superintendent Benson during the meeting.
Board President Stacy Johnson Myers said this night was for the board to absorb what the community had to say.
Option #1: Mask optional
The first option presented by Superintendent Benson was to respect and encourage mask choice by parents. The responsibility would shift from the district to the parents and students.
This option also includes layers of mitigation efforts that will remain, including clean facilities and sanitization, hygiene and handwashing, isolation for positive cases, etc.
Current covid case and transmission is “low,” but the district would and will continue to monitor and pivot based on in-district covid cases, the number of close contacts, county and community Covid-19 spread and Covid-19 transmission rates and outbreaks, etc.
Option #2: Mask optional grades 7-12
This option would require preschool, kindergarten and grades 1-6 to wear masks as this population will be ineligible for vaccines by the start of the school year. For grades 7-12 masks would be optional.
Option #3: Masks required
The final option presented at the meeting would require masks for all students, regardless of grade. This was described as a proactive measure to maintain in-school learning with face-to-face instruction. It accounts for concerns of the rise of Covid-19 variants.
Treasurer of the school board, Todd Schultz, said that though numbers have not been calculated, he has been hearing and seeing about a 50-50 split between what folks are hoping to see this school year. Between emails, public comments and community conversations, he has observed about 50% of people hoping to go mask optional with the other half requesting a mask requirement. That was reflected in the comments presented by community members during the designated public hearing time at the Aug. 2 meeting.
Dr. Amber Morgan, a pediatrician in River Falls, addressed the board, asking them to continue with their successes and recommend the requiring of masks. Morgan has a patient panel of over 1,000 people in the community and as a pediatrician, many of those patients attend the River Falls School District.
The school board members also hosted discourse on the options at hand. “The reason we are talking about masks tonight is that less than 50% of the population in both of these counties, and regionally, have been vaccinated,” stated Board Clerk Alan Tuchtenhagen. “People’s individual choice to not get vaccinated, and I respect that everyones got their choice about it, has implications for the community. And one of those being what we are talking about tonight.”
Next Monday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. the board will reconvene to continue the Covid-19 prevention and mitigation options conversation and move closer to a decision for this fall. “We are not making a decision for the entire year,” stated Johnson Myers. The board will be adaptable and responsible as information continues to surface and aspects of the pandemic change over the course of the year.
The upcoming meeting will be held at the River Falls High School auditorium and will be available to stream on YouTube.