Schools Tweaking Pandemic Protocols

Quarantine requirements easing as mask conversations continue

Sturgeon Bay’s school board set an Oct. 21 deadline for its members to establish a data-based metric for lifting its mandate for students and staff to wear facial coverings indoors during school hours. That date came and went without a firm decision, but that wasn’t because of a lack of discussion and consideration.

Board president Mike Stephani said the board spent almost four hours discussing the topic during an early-October workshop session. Then during its Oct. 21 meeting, the board discussed the topic for an hour. The board again heard from parents who opposed forcing their children to wear masks, including one who called a couple of the board members hypocrites for wearing masks at the meeting when he had seen them not wearing them indoors in public.

Referring to the Southern Door district’s easing of some COVID-related quarantine rules, Stephani said the board is considering a similar step. However, the board had not settled on whether to take an “off-ramp” from some of its masking requirements or wait until January or eight weeks after elementary-age children were allowed to have two COVID-19 vaccinations.

Stephani echoed concerns of some of the parents and fellow board members, saying the district does not want to have a never-ending requirement for students to wear facial coverings. Then again, both he and Superintendent Dan Tjernagel said they would hate to lift a masking requirement and then see the illness spread within the school, triggering a massive number of quarantine orders.

Previously, Sturgeon Bay board members had sought a solution for easing mask requirements based on the number of local cases. The majority agreed that masks help prevent the spread of the virus within the school and school activities; however, they doubt very many students are wearing masks at home or while socializing with friends. The board is considering whether to ease its mask requirements without setting a benchmark for local case data.

“We’re trying to look at trends to determine when we can off-ramp,” Stephani said. “Speaking for myself, we do not want kids in masks forever. We’re trying to do this safely and [as] quickly as we can. It would be really bad if we go off to optional masking and now we have 220 people out on quarantine.”

Quarantine-Rules Discussion

The board discussed setting its own quarantine requirements rather than following public-health officials’ guidelines for students who are not sick but may have come into close contact with a student who tested positive for COVID-19.

“People in the general public are not following the guidance,” Stephani said, “so, at some point, we have to recognize that. And at that point, unfortunately, we may have to [set] different rules than what the [CDC and public-health] guidances were. Otherwise, we have a very low incidence of virus in the district, but we could have 7%, 10% or 12% of students who are forced to quarantine.”

Not all board members agree with making policy that breaks with the guidelines set by the county’s public-health officials.

“We are making decisions about public health, which is not what we signed up to do or what our expertise is, at all,” said Jessica Holland. “Which is why I feel very uncomfortable thinking about not following what the guidelines are.”

Southern Door’s Change

The Southern Door school board made some changes this month to reduce the number of students who must quarantine if they have been in close contact with a student who tests positive for COVID-19. The district continues to require students to quarantine if they test positive for COVID-19 or refuse to take a COVID-19 test after having symptoms ranging from diarrhea and nausea. The district continues to ask parents to keep their children home if they are sick.

In essence, district officials are trying to avoid requiring students to stay home when they are not sick. Also, some Wisconsin districts such as Sevastopol have made the wearing of facial coverings optional for secondary-school-age students who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Here’s a rundown of some of Southern Door’s new guidelines:

• If a student is a “close contact” to a positive case outside of the household and is not having COVID-19 symptoms – whether vaccinated or unvaccinated – that student “may come to school masked and must monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days from the date of last contact with the positive individual.”

• If a student is a close contact to a positive case in that student’s household, vaccinated students “may come to school masked and must monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days from the date of last contact with the positive individual.”

• An unvaccinated student who is a close contact with a person in the same household must “quarantine for 10 days from when the positive household member is released from their 10-day isolation, as long as they are asymptomatic (20 days total quarantine).”