Schools Putting Masking Orders in Place

Concerns about statistics, positive COVID cases causing local schools to revise pandemic-protocols

A growing proportion of Door County students will be required to wear masks inside school buildings starting Monday morning, Sept. 20.

The Sturgeon Bay School District was the first to revise its masking requirements through a decision made with a 5-4 vote that came at 11:30 pm Wednesday. As of Monday, Sept. 20, all students, staff and visitors must wear masks when inside the buildings on school property from just before the school day starts until after the school buses depart. 

Southern Door has coronavirus-prevention protocols on its school board agenda for Monday, Sept. 20. At that time, Door County Medical Center and county health officials plan to talk to the Southern Door board, just as they did during visits to Sevastopol and Sturgeon Bay on recent evenings.

After not requiring facial coverings when the school year began, Sevastopol’s school board on Thursday voted 4-3 to require students in 4K through sixth grade, plus all employees, teachers and visitors, to wear masks while inside the school buildings. Masks remain optional for students in seventh through 12th grades; all of those students are age-eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Sevastopol teachers may remove masks while instructing students if the teacher is more than six feet away from students. Students also may take off masks during physical education in the gym at Sevastopol if social distancing is possible during the activity.

Sevastopol board president Lisa Bieri, along with Susan Tode and Cindy Zellner-Ehlers, voted against the motion, but not necessarily against Superintendent Kyle Luedtke’s recommendation for a 4K through sixth grade mask mandate. Bieri and Zellner-Ehlers favored required masking last month, and Tode on Thursday tried, unsuccessfully, to amend the motion so it would require facial coverings for grades seven through 12.

Luedtke said that as of Sept. 17, all of the students who had tested positive for COVID-19 were sixth-graders or younger. At that point, the district had eight positive cases, but that resulted in 32 students being placed in quarantine: home for 14 days past their last contact with a “positive” student. Sevastopol teachers are making their own arrangements for staying in contact with quarantined students, whether that’s through televising classes and requiring them to log in, or transferring assignments back and forth.

Two weeks into the school year at Gibraltar School District, no students or teachers have tested positive, said Tina Van Meer, district superintendent. The district has required masks since school began to try to lessen the chance of virus spread in the school, and to reduce the number of people who might have to quarantine if they were in “close contact” with one person who tests positive. 

Area school administrators had hoped that the county would handle contact tracing this year so that administrators and school staff could focus on educating students rather than determining with whom they had been in close contact.

“It’s time consuming,” Luedtke said.

Meanwhile, the Sturgeon Bay board instructed Superintendent Dan Tjernagel and local health officials to provide, by late October, statistical guidelines to help the board decide when it can ease its mask mandate. Tjernagel quickly contacted students’ families and staff members after the vote for the mask mandate.

“As indicated in my letter to families, the board realizes that people don’t want to see this change put into place indefinitely,” Tjernagel said. “The board must determine, no later than Oct. 21, the metrics we will use to end the facial covering requirement.”

“However,” the Sturgeon Bay board motion read, “if Door County moves to the medium or low COVID-19 Case Activity level by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the board must hold a special meeting within 10 business days to evaluate possible changes or elimination of this facial covering requirement.”

The district offices have sent details on the mask protocols, and exceptions, to all staff members and students’ families.

Sevastopol school officials also don’t have guidelines on how or when to lift a mask mandate, Luedtke said. He said discussion of masks as well as a continuing discussion of requiring vaccination of all district employees will appear on the agenda next month. 

In late summer, Gibraltar and Washington Island school officials decided to require all students and staff to wear facial coverings again this year.

Chris Peterson, superintendent of Southern Door Schools, said on Wednesday the district has had 45 students in quarantine since school began, due mostly to close contacts rather than positive testing.