Wauwatosa School District and others consider COVID-19 mitigation plan ahead of school year

NOW: Wauwatosa School District and others consider COVID-19 mitigation plan ahead of school year

WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Wauwatosa School District is considering a COVID-19 mitigation plan that would require masks if spread of the virus in the district is substantial or high.

The district's Medical/Public Health Advisory Panel held a virtual meeting Wednesday, Aug. 4 to discuss the plan proposed by the district.

A recording of Wednesday's meeting can be seen here: https://youtu.be/ZGEGbbJGaRU.

The plan includes a multi-level system in which mitigation efforts are added as spread of the virus increases. Under the proposal, if spread of the virus is "substantial" or "high," the district would require masks as well as other mitigation efforts.

"Unfortunately, we've seen with the Delta variant, that things are turning for the worse," Wauwatosa School District Superintendent Demond Means said during the meeting.

Means said the community's status with COVID-19 has changed in recent weeks, similarly to the rest of the state with the increase in cases driven by the Delta variant and unvaccinated people.

"What drove Table 2 is our desire to ensure we have students in school, in our buildings 5 days a week, in person, that's our goal, that's what we want," Means said.

The Wauwatosa School Board will meet Monday, Aug. 9 to vote to either approve or reject the plan discussed Wednesday night.

The proposed plan comes as other districts consider mitigation efforts as the school year approaches.

Whitefish Bay and Shorewood school districts announced mask requirements to begin the school year this week.

"We are taking this step - in advance of the release of our 2021-2022 Back-to-School Plan - in accordance with federal, state and local guidance for schools, and in the name of safety for all," Shorewood interim superintendent Dr. JoAnn Sternke wrote in a letter to parents.

"The School Board will continue to monitor agency recommendations and local data, and is committed to revising this policy if new guidance is provided, and/or when vaccinations become available to those aged 12 and under and/or community spread declines," a letter to Whitefish Bay parents from the district said.

The issue of mask requirements sparked heated debate during district board meetings last school year and as districts revisit the issue in the coming weeks, it is expected to continue.

In an open letter to President Joe Biden and Governor Tony Evers from a coalition of multiple parent groups this week, they expressed an opposition and rejection of mask requirements, calling mitigation guidance to reduce the spread of the virus and prevent hospitalizations and deaths an "uninvited reign of destruction."

"We applaud and support the school boards, businesses, and localities that have respected our parental choice," the letter said. "We anticipate and appreciate their continued support of our right to choose what is best for our children and individual families."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance ahead of the upcoming school year that includes universal indoor masking, regardless of vaccine status. 

Doctors in southeastern Wisconsin echo that guidance.

"We are recommending students return to school with masks," Dr. Kevin Dahlman, a pediatrician and the director at Aurora Children's Health, told CBS 58 in an interview.

Although children are less at risk to severe illness from COVID-19, Dahlman said masks should still be used until vaccines are approved for those younger than 12 and when community spread of the virus decreases. On top of that, children can still spread the virus to adults.

"We don't have the kids living in a bubble, it's not a confined environment. They go home to parents and grandparents, to loved ones," Dahlmand said. "So it's really all those environments that we have to take into consideration."

The Shorewood School District letter to parents can be found here.

The Whitefish Bay School District letter to parents can be found here.

The open letter to President Biden and Governor Evers can be found here:


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