The Maple School Board approved a return to school plan Monday, Aug. 9, that makes the wearing of face masks optional for staff and students. The only place masks would be required is on the bus and other transportation to and from school, per a U.S. Department of Education order.

All schools will be back to full day in-person instruction five days a week, with an online education option available for families. The district will work with an outside vendor to provide rapid testing for COVID-19 onsite. Social distancing will be encouraged and handwashing stressed.

Quarantine measures for those who have close contact with a known positive case of the virus were included in the plan. If the contact takes place at school, parents will be notified and can make their own choice about quarantine. If the contact takes place at home, students can continue to attend school with a disclosure showing they are fully vaccinated. Students who are not vaccinated would have to quarantine, but they could return to school on the eighth day following exposure if a test taken on day five, six or seven comes back negative and they have no symptoms.

The board approved the education plan roughly three weeks before the school start date and five days after the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issued its COVID-19 recommendations. Although the wearing of face masks is a district decision, both the DPI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all students older than 2 and all school staff wear face masks at school regardless of vaccination status.

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Three members of the public spoke up against the decision to make face masks optional, and one person spoke in favor of it. The board also received a petition with 300 signatures in favor of making masks optional. Board member Mike Granlund said a number of the names on the petition were not from people who lived in the district.

The plan would encompass the entire school year, all buildings, unless there is a spike in positive cases at a school or a countywide order is issued.

“In which case the board will reconvene to determine a course of action,” said District Administrator Sara Croney said.

An emergency meeting could take place within two hours, if needed.

Board member Danna Livingston-Matherly discussed concerns over who determines whether there is a spike in cases, and how many cases would be considered a spike.

“We don’t know what our course of action for pivoting is, except for that it’s when cases spike. Does that mean two cases? Does that mean 22? That’s very vague,” she said, and a lot can change in the coming weeks before school starts.

Livingston-Matherly and Shari Olson voted against the plan.

“I can definitely see both sides,” Olson said. “I thought we were done with this, and if you would have asked me three weeks ago, I would have said ‘Masks, of course we’re not going to wear masks,’ but things are changing rapidly with this, just like it did at the start.”

Her concern was for students under the age of 12 who can’t get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We need to protect the kids who don’t have a choice to be vaccinated,” Olson said.

As of Monday, Douglas County reported moderate transmission of the virus. Iron River had gone from zero to three cases within the past week.

Maple is the first school district in Douglas County to approve COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 school year. The Superior School Board will hold a special board meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16 in the Superior High School Performing Arts Center to decide which prevention strategies the district will use in the coming school year. The meeting can be accessed virtually through Microsoft Teams. A link will be provided on the school board website.

The Solon Springs School Board will approve return to school protocols at its regular board meeting, which takes place at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16 in the school library. Virtual access is available through a link on the agenda, which is posted on the district website.