Parents could opt child out of school mask mandates under GOP bill

NOW: Parents could opt child out of school mask mandates under GOP bill

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MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- Parents would be allowed to opt their child out of a school district's mask mandate under a Republican bill introduced this week.

Right now, school districts are allowed to set their own COVID-19 mitigation efforts to curb the spread such as masking and testing requirements. Under the bill, districts would not be allowed to enforce a mask requirement if a parent decides to opt their child out.

It would also force schools to offer in-person classes regardless of how COVID-19 is spreading in the community.

The proposal comes as many school districts are reevaluating their mask policies now that coronavirus cases continue to taper off.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) authored the bill and said its time to give parents more control over their child's learning environment.

"We should have never mandated the idea that folks wear masks in schools without their parents being involved," Vos said during testimony on the bill. 

Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey have recently announced plans to lift school mask mandates.

Two of the state's largest school districts, Milwaukee and Madison, have had some of the strictest mask policies in place since reopening their doors for in-person learning last year.

Both districts have had to temporarily close and shift to virtual learning because of COVID-19 concerns, but officials are now reconsidering.

During a weekly COVID-19 briefing, Milwaukee County's top health advisor Ben Weston said it might be time to rethink masking in schools.

"[Cases] are dropping rapidly, so certainly I think it's time to start having the discussions," Dr. Weston said last week. "We are seeing declines in cases, in positivity, in hospitalizations."

Health experts and the officials at the CDC have said schools without mask mandates are more at risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. That's why for now, Milwaukee Public Schools don't support taking that chance. 

"Some parents are very concerns that their children might get infected if they are with other students who are not masked," said Bob Peterson, Milwaukee School Board President. "I've hardly heard of any complaints about masks."

The seven-day average of new confirmed cases sits at 1,629 as of Wednesday, according to state health data. That is a significant decline from a month ago when the average was 18,102 cases. 

With cases plummeting, the UW-System is moving to drop mask requirements as soon as March 1, and no later than spring break. UW-Madison also announced they will lift their mask mandate on March 12. 

"While this does not mean the pandemic is over, it is a sign that we can have confidence in the protection we receive from COVID-19 vaccination," a UW-Madison press release said.

Peterson said while things are improving, the school board has not had any discussions about eliminating masks. 

"In our most recent conversations it was not on the table, no one brought it up," Peterson said. 

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