Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau School Board of Education on Monday discarded their mandatory masking policy for elementary schools regardless of COVID-19 positive cases, a shift from an earlier decision in January.

The measure to make masks optional was passed by a majority voice vote after Superintendent Dr. Keith W. Hilts said district officials received a request from board members to review the policy. He did not name the members.

Soon after Hilts spoke, board member Jon Creisher moved to change the mandatory masking in elementary schools “regardless of a positive case.” Creisher is among several board members who have vehemently opposed indoor masking in schools, despite guidelines from public health institutions including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

His colleague on the WSD Board, Lance Trollop, supported changing the policy, saying indoor masking was not making any difference.

Until now, if a positive case was reported in a classroom, all students and staff in that affected classroom were required to wear masks for five days from the date of last contact with the positive case. This masking requirement, introduced on Jan. 21, had replaced a Jan. 4 mitigation measure that required 10 days of masking

Indoor masking has been a polarizing topic in the district, just like elsewhere in the country. A number of parents and guardians who are in favor of masking guidelines from federal and state public health bodies point out that many children are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. Some have immunocompromised and vulnerable family members at home. On the other hand, critics say requiring young children to wear masks harms them in multiple ways and can hamper learning.

Although cases, hospitalizations and deaths have gone down across the country, the CDC is continuing to recommend masking in indoor spaces, including in schools.

WSD Board wants a pause on John Marshall Elementary School historic preservation initiative

The WSD Board will ask the Wausau City Council and the Wausau Historic Preservation Commission to not move forward with plans to designate John Marshall Elementary School as a local historic landmark until it seeks community feedback on the move.

Several board members felt that the initiative would have an impact on their future planning, including restructuring of some elementary schools. The John Marshall building is 100 years old. 

John Marshall Elementary School

Board President Pat McKee pointed out that while some groups are interested in preserving the building, there has so far been “just no discussion on what it all means to students, neighborhood residents and taxpayers.”

Members said they want to ensure residents in the elementary school zone understand the consequences of such a designation, including decreasing the chances of a new school being built and even the potential closure of the school in the neighborhood.

The district administration wanted the board to make a decision so that they could tell groups interested in pursuing historic preservation for John Marshall that, as owners, they should have a say in the matter. 

Earlier, the administration offered the board their suggestion to seek more time on the matter and withhold approval of this action at this time.

“The District will soon be engaging in a community conversation regarding the structure of our elementary schools and do not wish to have our options limited by this designation,” the meeting packet read.

The board approved that request.

Board approves Neola policies after rejecting proposed change involving board and school staff

The WSD Board approved changes to Neola policies after deleting a proposed change under Board-Staff Communications that said an employee could face punishment if they breached the new procedures in chain of communication. 

Neola is a service that helps school boards on their policies and bylaws.

The language of the procedure for the policy under 3112 (Board-Staff Communications) seemed to imply that staff could not bypass district officials if they wished to approach board members. The new procedures also limited members from reaching out to staff.

Board member Jane Rusch termed the changes “too draconian” and said they should be removed. Trollop said he found the procedure harsh, though other area schools had similar procedures. 

Superintendent Hilts said district officials were not proposing make or break changes in the policy.

After a brief discussion, the board unanimously removed the language on employee discipline.

(For the approved Neola policies with their suggested changes, click here, and go to item number VIII.D.4.)