HUDSON — COVID cases in the building and in the district boundaries will both play a role in guiding if and when Hudson District schools will move to require masks.
The school board approved a school masking matrix as part of the district’s back-to-school blueprint in a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 26.
All district schools will start with masks recommended. That wording was approved at Thursday’s meeting, a change from the previous mask optional terms.
The district will then look at schools on an individual basis to determine if and when each one will go to masks required. The decision will be made separately for each school, meaning one could be wearing requiring masks while another is not.
Decisions will be made each week on Friday, and if a change is determined necessary, it will be implemented on the following Monday.
Like last year’s school closure matrix, Superintendent Nick Ouellette said the masking matrix is the administration’s best look at the parameters and what they think is reasonable.
The number of cases within the district boundary comes from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, which adjusts for a rate per 100,000 population. The numbers are the same as what was used last year, but adjusted to reflect that the state now uses 7-day cumulative totals rather than 7-day averages, Ouellette said.
The matrix was not built to make masks optional all year or required all year, Ouellette said.
“The goal is not to make the numbers do any one thing,” he said.
Whether the school has masks or not, Ouellette said the district won’t be able to be fully COVID-free. Having something to guide the decision on when to implement mask requirements is important, he said.
Board member Kate Garza said she appreciated that the matrix was broken down by schools, but was concerned that the issues in the wider community would largely affect the masks matrix. Garza said she had a thought to keep it at the in-school cases only.
Board member Bruce Hanson said even if the community numbers were at the maximum, a school wouldn’t go to masking required until it saw multiple school cases.
Board member Carrie Whitacre asked that the district have more leeway with cases involving siblings from the same household. She also said the district needs to realize this year may be different and the district might be dealing with a more contagious variant with children as the rest of the country is seeing.
“I just think we need to be cognizant that we’re probably not going to be spared this,” she said.
Board member Heather Logelin questioned if the schools should be starting masks optional when the district does not have any in-school case numbers. She also said the matrix as a whole was too loose, given the high transmission of the Delta variant. Waiting to use a way to prevent spread until a bunch of people are already sick is reactive, she said.
“By not acting proactively now, we are running the risk that kids get pulled out of school,” she said.
Garza said the board doesn’t know what this variant is going to do.
“If this is similar to a flu or a cold, at what point do we stop tracking this,” she said.
Fluidity is important as a board and a school, Garza said. She feels the matrix is on the other side, being too restrictive, and said parents have the ability to send their kids masked.
“I’ve actually seen the kids probably more respectful sometimes than adults with if people decide to wear masks or not,” she said.
COVID is not the flu, Logelin said. According to Johns Hopkins University, the flu-related deaths are between 290,000 to 650,000, while COVID-19 has caused about 4.5 million deaths. The propensity of research shows that masks work, masks are safe, vaccines work and vaccines are safe, Logelin said.
“As a board each of us has to decide are we on the I don’t believe the science side or are we on the I believe the science side, or which science,” Logelin said.
Garza said she knows COVID is real, but they need to look at the severity of each variant.
Board member Molly Powers said the district needs the middle ground of the matrix.
“Hudson is not Orlando, Florida. We may get to that, I hope we don’t,” she said. “I think we can take it day by day, week by week, see what happens.”
Powers said they need to be respectful of other people’s tolerances with masks, but that they will have to live with the choices they make.
“I would hope as we send our kids to school that we would look at the population maybe and say, ‘Are there kids there who need me to do this?’” she said.
The matrix was approved with Logelin voting no.