Education Notes

Some parents stand against masks, mandatory vaccination for upcoming school year

Parents have many different opinions about how schools should set up illness-prevention rules and protocols for the 2021-22 school year, and Door County school boards will soon decide how to proceed.

After six parents recently told the Sturgeon Bay School Board their wishes and concerns about potential pandemic protocols, Superintendent Dan Tjernagel told them the board will make a plan that will likely have fewer options for families and teachers than the 2020-21 school year plan did.

Parent Nicole Carmody asked the Sturgeon Bay district to make masks optional and to not perform contact tracing if a student becomes ill with COVID-19 or a new strain. If the district hosted a vaccination clinic for students younger than 12, Carmody said, the district should “not coerce people to take” what she referred to as an “experimental drug.” 

Parent Jamie Haslam said if the district required the youngest students to wear masks, she might teach her son at home so he could see her lips and mouth and how to form letters and sounds properly when speaking. She also mentioned the social ramifications for students who could not see their peers’ facial expressions.

Sturgeon Bay School Board President Mike Stephani said he wanted to have the school year and rules structured early this summer so families could plan. He said hindsight is 20/20, and time has shown that the board made the right decision to provide in-classroom learning as an option from the start of the last school year. 

Many schools are not providing remote learning or remote teaching options in 2021-22, and Sturgeon Bay most certainly will not provide as much flexibility this fall as it did last year. Although Stephani wants to have solid plans in place, a problematic coronavirus variant could cause the district to have to “roll with the changes.”

Tjernagel discussed multiple operational decisions he needed to make, such as what to do if students were required to quarantine and the district was not set up the way it was last year for students to seamlessly switch to home-based remote learning. He also said the board needed to decide how to handle staff members who had to be quarantined but didn’t have the option of teaching from home, and what would happen if the district required a teacher to stay home but he or she had run out of sick leave.

“The reality is, anybody who thinks people are going to be as accommodating next fall as they were the last year and a half, I think lives in a different universe than me,” Tjernagel said. “For anyone who takes issue with that, I’m not speaking for the board.”

Regarding people’s opinions about facial coverings and vaccinations, Tjernagel said, “Different opinions may not match, but how do we navigate all of that and not fall apart over some of these issues?”

Stephani said the COVID-19 situation had improved remarkably during the past 60-120 days, and he hoped data would make things even more clear during the next 30 days so the district could provide information to help parents make decisions.

Other Door County school districts such as Gibraltar and Southern Door also plan to decide about potential pandemic protocols during the next month, according to their superintendents.

Medical Professional Provides Input 

Dr. Amy Fogarty, a Door County Medical Center pediatrician, accepted an invitation to speak to the Sturgeon Bay School Board about lingering COVID-19 concerns. She also shared some facts about in-school attendance during the past year.

The county recorded hardly any cases that originated from contacts in the schools. She said Sevastopol had one case of intra-school transmission, and one of the private schools had some cases. 

At present, with COVID-19 cases declining but concerns growing about new coronavirus strains, Fogarty answered questions about whether to require students 11 and younger to wear masks and whether to perform labor-intensive contact tracing if there are new cases.

“Masks work,” Fogarty said, referring to preventing disease spread when contact is limited. 

Masks got a bad rap last spring because they’re not perfectly sealed like the masks surgeons and nurses wear, Fogarty said. Not counting kissing or other germ-spreading contact, inexpensive masks protect people from COVID-19, she said.

Fogarty said she believed that, as the situation stands now, if the district did not require elementary-school students to wear masks, it would have to perform contact tracing and have quarantine protocols in place. 

The Centers for Disease Control still classifies COVID-19 as a Category 1 communicable disease, with quarantine, reporting and contact tracing protocols in place for schools, just like for measles or pertussis (whooping cough). 

Fogarty said the district might avoid contact tracing if it continues mask requirements for students who are not vaccinated. Still, she said data and information are likely to change between now and July, and again before school starts.

The state has not yet made COVID-19 vaccinations available for children younger than 12, and it began vaccinations for ages 12-15 only in early May.

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