Parents protest but Grafton sticks with masks

Anger over face-covering requirement boils over at emergency meeting but district will still require them at elementary schools

A GROUP OF parents and children, some holding signs, gathered in front of Grafton High School Monday before they asked the School Board to rescind its Aug. 23 decision to require masks for elementary school students through Oct. 25. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

More than 200 parents descended on the Grafton High School auditorium Monday to confront the School Board over its decision to require elementary school students to wear masks to open the school year.

Many of those opposed to masks gathered in front of the school, some carrying signs, then walked en masse into the room.

Passions ran high as more than 65 people on both sides of the debate spoke during the almost five-hour emergency meeting held just two days before the start of school. One man was removed from the room, escorted out by police, for disrupting the proceedings.

In the end, the School Board modified its decision of a week earlier but did not change the basic premise — elementary school students will be required to wear masks to start the school year.

They will be required to wear them until Sept. 21, when the district’s Covid-19  protocols in place at the beginning of the school year for middle and high school students are applied to elementary school students as well.

For example, the protocols say that if 5% of the school population tests positive or is quarantined, masks will be required when students are in the halls transitioning between rooms and recommended at other times but at 10%, students would be required to wear masks all the time in school.

Just a week earlier, the board had decided that all elementary students would be required to wear masks until Oct. 25, when the board would revisit the decision.

Only one board member, Jo Maehl, voted against the new policy, saying she wanted youngsters to wear masks for a longer period.

“I feel as a School Board we are responsible for the kids’ safety,” Maehl said. “We are elected as a body to make these decisions. We need to look to our medical community to make those decisions.”

But board member Jerry Rossi said the board was close to overstepping the line and making a decision that should be left up to parents.

The board’s decision also sets a clear timeline as to when its protocols are put into action rather than delaying a decision for two months, then debating the issue again, he said.

“At two months (Oct. 25), there is nothing to turn it off,” he said of the mandate.

Monday’s meeting played out like many across the country, with angry parents confronting school boards over the issue of masking students. Board members elsewhere have resigned over the issue as passions have taken over much of the debate.

Monday’s meeting was an emergency session of the board called because many residents said they did not realize the issue would be discussed at last week’s meeting since the agenda did not specify masking as a topic to be discussed, instead noting that the district’s school opening plan would be discussed, Board President Paul Lorge explained.

Since the Aug. 23 meeting, he said, he received 175 emails regarding the issue, 55 of which were also sent to the other board members. Lorge forwarded the other 120 emails to the other board members as well, he said, so everyone’s views could be taken into consideration.

In addition, 76 residents signed up online to speak during the meeting, and others signed up at the session. It took 3-1/2 hours to hear from them all.

Many of those who opposed masking told the board it is a parent’s right to decide whether face coverings should be worn.

“What I am expert in is my kids. Please let me have the decision to draw this line for them,” Ashley Nowak, 1977 Shasta Ave., said. 

“It is our job as parents to keep them safe,” DJ Herrenbruck, 461 Lake Bluff La., said. “Children at a young age are uncomfortable standing up for themselves. We don’t need the School Board or teachers to shame them into wearing masks.”

Amanda Jamieson, 744 Lancaster Dr., told the board, “Normalcy matters. Stop making decisions for everybody based on worst-case fears.”

They talked about the difficulty some children have wearing face coverings, both physically and emotionally, and said masking hinders speech and language development and impedes the ability of youngsters to read and interpret facial cues.

Some parents said their children no longer look forward to going to school if they have to wear masks, while others said they lead to frustration when their youngsters can’t understand others.

“I have seen my kid frustrated to the point of tears because she cannot understand what the teacher is saying,” Connie Schumacher, 1549 Glory La., said.

Several said the School District should work to enhance children’s natural immune systems through exercise and healthy eating, saying that provides better protection against Covid-19 than masks. 

Many of those supporting the wearing of masks said that the district’s experience last year, when students were masked and schools didn’t have to shut down, proves the importance of the measure.

They noted that the Delta variant is more contagious, making face coverings more important than ever, and they urged the board to follow the recommendations of health professionals.

“I don’t understand this distrust of health care professionals,” Beth DeJongh, 112 Preserve Ct., said. “I’m not an expert in that. We should not make decisions based on politics or feelings.”

Since Covid-19 vaccines have not been approved for elementary school-aged children, they noted, masks are more important for them than many others.

“We’re not asking for masks forever. We’re just asking for a few more months,” Jennifer Shimon of Audubon Avenue said, noting that by then a vaccine for youngster may be available.

Claire Kinnear, 1614 Willow Ct., told the board that a mandate ensures children will wear their masks.

“We’ve never been in a pandemic like this before,” she said, adding, “When masks are optional, kids don’t wear them.”

Sini Mulloy, 1216 Iris La., told the board that it makes accommodations for children with allergies and allows service dogs for those with disabilities. Wearing masks, she said, is similar, with potentially life saving results.

It is the board’s job to make the best decision for children and to keep schools open, they said.

Board members spent a considerable amount of time debating the issue, primarily how long masks should be required. Requiring them until Sept. 21 takes into account the fact many people travel over Labor Day and the virus typically takes 14 days to incubate, they said.

Rossi called this a compromise, while Lorge said he would have preferred the district continue to require them until the October deadline so it had more data to base a final decision on.

Board members also voted to eliminate a requirement that middle school students wear masks when in the hallways, while a motion to require sixth-graders, who don’t qualify for the vaccine yet, failed for lack of a second.


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