Damakant Jayshi

A committee of the Wausau School District Board on Monday voted to refer the school administration’s recommendation to return to pre-pandemic procedures for staff and students and eliminate mandatory masking for all district-provided transportation.

The Education/Operations Committee voted unanimously to send the motion to the Board of Education for final consideration on March 14. Since the recommendations have not yet received final board approval, they are not yet effective.  

District Director of Human Resources, Tabatha Gundrum, told the Education and Operations Committee that the COVID-19 Dashboard showed just three recorded coronavirus cases – two students and one staff member – in the entire district. The district has more than 7,700 students.

Some parents, however, have questioned the accuracy of the figures on the COVID-19 dashboard maintained by the school district.

“At this point in time based on the low numbers and really the significant volume of staff time that’s being taken, we are recommending that we return to pre-pandemic procedures related to absence reporting and absence choices,” Gundrum said.

The district would continue offering a mobile testing unit for families.

Wausau School District Communications Coordinator Diana White said the change won’t make a significant difference on absence procedures.

“What does change with this motion is how the district treats COVID-19,” White told Wausau Pilot & Review. “We’re asking for it to be no different from the flu – for instance, we wouldn’t implement virtual learning in a classroom because there are a few positive COVID-19 cases. If students, and staff for that matter, are sick, they stay home. If they are well, they come to school.”

White also clarified that masks will continue to be optional in the district. 

The elimination of mandatory masking on buses also needs final approval from the full Board of Education on March 14, White added.

Mandatory masking on buses was included in the recommendation after Superintendent Keith Hilts referred to “renewed guidance around masking on buses” that the district learned last week. Hilts acknowledged that there is some disagreement on how to interpret new guidelines, but said district officials believe masking on buses is optional.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its measurement of the spread of COVID-19 cases in the community across the United States.

“Effective Feb. 25, the CDC exercised its enforcement discretion to not require that people wear masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and education/child care programs,” the CDC said on its website.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s masking requirement has not changed and is set to expire later this month unless it is renewed. In August, the TSA extended its face mask requirement for all transportation networks, including buses, through Mar. 18, 2022

The CDC’s updated guidance goes much farther than buses. The updated guidance no longer recommends universal indoor mask wearing in K-12 and early education settings in areas with a low or medium COVID-19 Community Level.

According to the CDC, the COVID transmission level in Marathon County is “high” and the county’s Health Department still puts the county under the “very high” category when it comes to COVID-19 cases. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all trending downward.