N-V schools to end mask mandate

VOTERS IN THE Norway-Vulcan Area School District will decide Tuesday whether to allow the district to levy up to 2 mills for 10 years for a sinking fund to pay for maintenance, repairs and construction of district facilities. A similar measure failed in March 2020 by only 15 votes. (Dennis Mansfield/Daily News photo)

NORWAY — It took a while, but the Norway-Vulcan Area Schools Board managed to reach a compromise Wednesday on two key provisions of the district’s COVID-19 policy, including lifting a mask mandate for elementary students after the Thanksgiving holiday break.

The two unanimous votes updated the district’s COVID-19 policy approved in September, which required kindergarten through sixth-grade students wear masks while in school and all students be masked when on district school buses. The previous policy also required masks in grades seven through 12 if 8% or more of the students were quarantined or tested positive for the virus.

But Wednesday the board lifted the mask requirement for all students as of Nov. 29, the first day back from the Thanksgiving Day break, and updated its quarantine guidelines to allow non-vaccinated students who had close contact with a COVID-19-positive individual to remain in school while being tested for seven consecutive school days. The number of testing days is cut to two for vaccinated students.

“So long as the tests are COVID-19 negative, they may continue to attend school,” NVAS Superintendent Lou Steigerwald said. “With this new process, it is very important that students who are ill remain home until their symptoms improve.”

Approving the changes proved to be a challenge, however, as board members sought to find a compromise.

Before passing the changes on 6-0 votes, with board member Jan VanGasse absent, two previous motions to lift the mask requirement were defeated, with the only difference being the date the new policy would take effect. The first motion would have set the date at Dec. 17, the second four days earlier Dec. 13.

With vaccines just recently becoming available for ages 12 and younger, board members discussed giving parents enough time to get their children inoculated and allow for the vaccine to be fully effective.

Board member Bill O’Brion said at least six weeks is needed for that to occur, placing the time frame to lift the mask requirement in mid-December.

“I think it’s really important to remember why we put the mask mandate in place,” O’Brion said. “Everyone on this board wants to keep our kids healthy and in school.”

However, other board members didn’t want to wait that long.

“I would vote to remove the mask mandate right now,” board member Brady Gustafson said.

“I’ve been an advocate for student safety,” said Cory Heigl, board president. “But I’m not an advocate for the policy the way it’s written.

“I’m against a mandate in general,” Heigl added. “That’s all there is to it.”

Even with two motions defeated, board member Jennifer DeDecker urged her fellow board members to continue to work together and reach a workable compromise.

“I’d love to leave tonight with some things that are clearly stated,” she said.

“The idea is to come up with something people can rally behind,” Heigl added. “We fell short when we moved forward with the mandate before.”

Board members later agreed that, by lifting the mask requirement after the upcoming holiday break, parents wanting to have their children vaccinated would at least be able to schedule the first shot to be administered and there be a window for it to provide some measure of protection against the virus.

“It’s all risk management,” O’Brion said.

They also agreed to drop the mechanism at which students could be required to wear masks in the future. Rather than using the 8% rule to trigger a mask requirement, board members agreed a special meeting should be called if administrators noticed an increasing trend in COVID-19 cases and related absences.

“This is a very committed board,” DeDecker said. “We’re committed to doing everything possible and to do what’s needed.”


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