Brian Roebke photo
School Board President Tom Eggert speaks to guest Kimberly Denkins at last week’s Wrightstown Community School District meeting. Denkins was among six parents and one student who spoke in favor of eliminating the mask mandate in district schools.
By Brian Roebke
The message from seven speakers from the community at last week’s Wrightstown Community School District board of education meeting: it’s time to move on from the masking requirement.
During the public comment of the meeting, Mr. Schmidt (did not give first name), Abby Bousley, Matthew Hansen, Kimberly Denkins, Ryan Bodwin, Courtney Schisel, and Julie Sigmund spoke about the issues they have with masking.
After hearing from those folks, as well as discussion among themselves, board members decided to keep the masking requirement until the end of the school year but remove the mask mandate for summer school classes if teachers were still willing to teach under that scenario.
On Monday morning, Super-intendent Carla Buboltz said the district is reviewing safety and mitigation protocols and strategies and will be communicating with families this week regarding any changes for summer school programming.
“While CDC guidance will continue to require face coverings for bus transportation through the summer, the district is exploring ways to modify face coverings in other situations for summer school and summer programs,” she said.
Selected comments from those speakers follow.
As the first speaker, Schmidt said he worked in construction and thinks they are being exposed to oxygen deficiency during the school day. He demonstrated oxygen levels on himself for the board, with the indicator showing he was oxygen deficient when wearing a neck gator.
“Within five breaths I’m checked out,” he said, noting in his field of work, he would need some without a mask to return to an acceptable level or they will be fined by OSHA.
“These kids are breathing their exhaust,” he said.
Bousley has been a teacher for 22 years and has endured “quite the year” in Appleton this school year. She said the CDC said masks can be removed if people are fully vaccinated and there are ample opportunities for those age 12 to adult to get the vaccination. “It’s now a choice in most stores you go into, it’s a choice to be vaccinated,” she said. “Now it should be a choice to mask.”
She said children and their families need to have that choice.
Hansen, a WHS senior, said the school district is not aligning with CDC guidelines and friends who were vaccinated were made out to be inconsiderate people when they have their mask below their nose.
“If we/you are going to take away people’s right to look for their own health and well-being, I will assume that the facts and statistics should 100 percent back up the actions we, the students and teachers, are forced to carry out.”
Hansen also noted there haven’t been any recorded deaths in the state among youths ages 4-18.
Denkins noted there are hundreds of articles and studies supporting pro-mask and pro-choice and asked why the board is choosing one side over another.
“The data out there compares quite well with the infection and fatality rate of most influenza viruses and even lower,” she said. “Yet the reactions to COVID have never been employed during influenza season.”
She noted doctors have seen more stress, depression, and anxiety in children than ever before because of COVID fears.
Bodwin thanked everyone for having his daughters in school in person every day this year. He added he’s sick of the “trust the science” statement because you can look anywhere to find reputable, peer-reviewed medical studies showing that masking is not needed.
“I understand you guys take guidance from the county health board, who takes guidance from the CDC, but you know who’s giving the CDC guidance? They’ve literally copied the talking points of the largest teachers union in the country,” he said.
He went to Iraq and lived in fear for three days there. “I realized if I’m living in fear I’m already dead,” he said. “If you want to live in fear, and wear your mask, then go ahead, but don’t make everyone else do it.”
Schisel said she supported the other speakers.
Sigmund said parents and students want to have a choice. “I’ve heard teachers say, ‘I’m going to send you to the principal’s office because your mask isn’t right,’” she said. “I don’t agree with that and I don’t think that’s the right tactic to go about it because that’s instilling fear into our children.”
She said people can’t undo the mental and physical harm, including headaches. “My daughter almost passed out one day,” she said.
New Board President Tom Eggert thanked everyone for coming in to give their comments and told the speakers the board would consider them.
“Sometimes our hands are tied and sometimes when you make a decision it might not be good for everyone but at the end of the day we have to look at everyone,” he said.
Later in the meeting, Buboltz noted all Wrightstown students had the opportunity to be in school five days a week for the entire school year, and those are the only public school students in Brown County who can say that.
She believes strong mitigation strategies played a big part in that and while the CDC said masking could be removed for those who are fully vaccinated, the district is staying with the masking mandate until the end of the school year.
Buboltz said the masking requirement has been removed for students who are outside, and is encouraging as many summer school teachers as possible to bring their classes outside this summer when they are in class at the high school because of construction work across the street.
However, she recommended masking for students who are inside this summer.
Following board discussion, that was removed with a caveat.
Summer School Principal Ashley Post said some teachers were leery of working if students were unmasked, and if there is a positive case, the entire summer school classroom could need to be quarantined, sans those who were wearing masks. With only three weeks of summer school, those classes would effectively end immediately for unmasked students.
Post said five teachers have concerns about unmasked students, and in 2019, seven of the 15 summer school days had rain.
Buboltz said there was a struggle to get summer school teachers this year and this could complicate that.
Masks are required on buses, which is a federal determination.
Newly elected board member Nicole Gerend felt masks should be optional since summer school is optional. Tiffany Van Vreede agreed with her, saying if parents feel their children might be at risk, they could choose to keep their children home.
“I don’t think we had a real representation of the people who feel strongly that kids should wear masks,” Board Member Sarah Hock said. “I’ve talked to families who feel very strongly about that and so I would choose to not have them attend then if they felt strongly.”
Buboltz said the district will not offer a virtual option for summer school this year.
Board Member Mike Van Eperen offered another perspective on masking.
“I know parents feel strongly about making that choice but unless parents have a medical background that can support that choice, why would we as a board, who has to look out for not just my kid, we have to look out for every kid in the district, why would we go against CDC guidelines,” he asked.
After other board members said it was optional, Van Eperen said the CDC doesn’t make it optional.
Buboltz said 123 students and 35 staff have tested positive from Sept. 1 through May 14, and 95 percent of those were related to home or outside school exposure.
That totaled 11 percent of all people in school buildings, with 9 percent of students and 22 percent of staff. She added that “some” of those were hospitalized.
“I don’t want to diminish that because it’s very real the level of exposure that we’ve had,” she said.
Van Eperen said he would feel terrible if one of those hospitalizations were due to the school district’s lack of mitigation practices. “What if your kid is that .1 percent,” he said.
Eggert thought the optional masking offered district parents a start to a return to normal.
Buboltz noted one side of the issue was significantly lobbied to attend the meeting, which was great, but the board didn’t hear from the other side.
Gerend felt if people were passionate about masking, they knew that subject was on the agenda and would be talked about. Van Vreede said that group wasn’t lobbied and aware the other group was coming, but Eggert said they were.
“I have two neighbors who said I am in favor of masks, do what you’ve got to do, I’ll support you either way,” he said.
Buboltz said she received plenty of emails in favor of masking when school started but hasn’t received any recently.
In the facilities and construction update, Buboltz said there’s now a plastic wall in the elementary gym to allow work to start in there. Construction has started on footings and there will be mason walls coming up from the ground soon. The elementary school boiler that needs to be replaced will be taken apart and the asbestos in it abated during the next few weeks.
Teachers will begin moving items to the storage pods in the parking lot because 12 classrooms must be cleared out by May 28 for reconstruction to start.
More pods are on the way along with a dumpster to place items that are no longer needed.
There will be a community sale at some point in the future once they’ve determined what’s not being kept.
The board approved 15 incoming open enrollment applications. Seven of them qualify under the district policy of welcoming siblings of currently attending students, as well as those currently attending. Eight of them are new enrollees, all at Wrightstown High School. The board denied 12 applications based on a lack of space.
New board president
Eggert was elected board president at the start of the meeting by a 4-3 vote, defeating incumbent president Van Eperen, who led the board following the retirement of Tom Gerrits.
“Thank you very much for the opportunity to be your president,” he told the board after the vote, noting he’s proud of what the board has accomplished during his tenure.
Gerend, participating in her first meeting, was elected vice president, also by a 4-3 vote, over Sarah Hock. Tiffany Van Vreede was elected clerk by a 4-3 vote over Joie Cunningham, and Van Eperen was elected treasurer 7-0.
Chelsea Lasecki, middle school health/physical education
Danielle Wegner, grade 1 teacher
Courtney Domer, elementary special education instructional aide
Lynn Lamers, school nutrition assistant
Jeffrey Miller, elementary special education teacher.