The Solon Springs School Board on Thursday, Sept. 24 approved an updated facial coverings rule to reflect Gov. Tony Evers’ extension of the statewide mask mandate through Nov. 21.

The move came after more than an hour of discussion about mask use at school, and a day before the district announced that an individual had been excluded from school after testing positive for COVID-19.

“This positive (case) does affect the school,” wrote Superintendent Frank Helquist in a Sept. 25 letter to parents.

Children and staff who interacted closely with the individual will be contacted by the Douglas County Health Department or the school, he said, and close contacts will be excluded from school for 14 days from their last exposure to the person.

Since school resumed this fall, Solon Springs students have been mandated to keep masks on unless they are outside and at least an “eagle's wings” distance apart. Some parents expressed concerns at the school board meeting that masks were distracting their children, causing headaches, sore ears and anxiety. Board members said that use of masks while taking part in physical education classes that require exertion is also an area of concern.

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Amanda Linden wears a mask as she talks to her first through third grade students from the Montessori program at Solon Springs School at Lucius Woods Park Friday, Sept. 4. The school district extended its mask mandate last week to follow guidelines set by Gov. Tony Evers. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Amanda Linden wears a mask as she talks to her first through third grade students from the Montessori program at Solon Springs School at Lucius Woods Park Friday, Sept. 4. The school district extended its mask mandate last week to follow guidelines set by Gov. Tony Evers. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

While the district’s COVID-19 return to school plan is fluid, Helquist said, they have to follow the governor’s mandate.

“I know we can’t be a ‘safe’ school. We can be a ‘safer’ school,” he said.

Students are allowed to take off their masks briefly to take a drink of water or eat, as well as when they are outside as long as social distancing requirements are met. Exemptions to the mask mandate must be made at an administrative level, Helquist said, and administrators do have a right to know the medical reason for an exemption. He likened not following the mask mandate to refusing to participate in a fire drill.

The board was also informed about the impact the school’s solar panel project, which went online in June, was having on the budget. The district saw a roughly $1,300 savings on its Aug. 8 bill and a $1,600 savings on its Sept. 8 bill for heating the 80,000-square-foot school building. That was above the projected 50% savings the district expected, Helquist said.

Board member Angela Botner, who also serves as chairwoman of the Town of Solon Springs Board, discussed utilizing some of the federal CARES Act funding the town received for COVID-19 related expenses in the school district. The board moved that discussion forward to its October meeting.