The Green Lake School Board last week Wednesday unanimously approved changing the school’s reopening plan effective Jan. 3, 2022.
Superintendent Gina Baxter said the administration worked to modify the plan because COVID-19 vaccines have become available for children ages 5 to 11.
She noted that making the plan take effect on Jan. 3 gives students time to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are not requiring any student to receive a vaccine, nor are we requiring employees to receive the vaccine,” Baxter said. “[The students] have the option now. Before they didn’t have the option.”
She added that having the changes take effect after Christmas break would create a “natural transition” for younger students, who may be confused by other modifications in the revised reopening plan.
Under the revised plan, masks would be optional until Green Lake School has 16 COVID-19 cases among students, which is the highest metric the district has witnessed under mandatory masking, Baxter explained.
Masking would be required for two weeks following each required masking period, and students sent home for COVID-related symptoms will be asked to wear a mask while waiting to be picked up.
School Board President Andy Gryske described the 16 cases metric as “a fallback plan” that enables optional masking, while trying to prevent an outbreak from worsening.
“Just about every other school that has optional masks has a fallback plan for when outbreaks occur,” he said. “We will be coming back from the holidays, which we know will see a spike in cases.”
Beyond masking, the revised plan also enables students to begin using lockers again, eliminating the need to carry backpacks from class-to-class.
In addition, outside agencies and groups will be permitted to use the building after school hours as long as they complete paperwork and properly sanitize their area.
Field trips also will be permitted following pre-COVID approval procedures, but school administration may change field trip policies depending on COVID status.
The vote to change the reopening plan came after months of public comment at School Board meetings, asking for the district’s masking requirement to be lifted.
“Students have had enough, parents have had enough and we want the mask option, not a mandate,” said Jenny Sell, who open-enrolls a student in Green Lake. She said her son has asthma and wearing a mask has made it more difficult for him.
Local public health officials say masks help to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets that get expelled by the individual wearing a mask.
“This is called ‘source control.’ To a lesser extent, masks can also help filter out the droplets in the air that we are breathing in,” Green Lake County Public Health Officer Rachel Prellwitz said last month. “Essentially, although wearing a mask does provide you some protection, your mask primarily protects others around you.”
In discussing the reopening plan, School Board member Tim Lyke asked if administrators had run the revised plan by the Green Lake County Health Department.
“My understanding was that the administration is relying on that guidance [from the health department],” he said. “The decision is ours, but we receive guidance from the health department. I think we should continue to do that.”
Baxter replied that she hadn’t, but said she could contact Prellwitz to get some feedback on the district’s revisions.
Meanwhile, Gryske said he reached out to the health department this summer about what its recommendations would be once children were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the time, it was too early for the health department to make a recommendation because it didn’t know what the vaccination rate would look like for that age group, he noted.
“The conversation we had was basically, you have touch points in a pandemic — from a public health perspective — you have a pandemic; that’s when you cannot control it,” Gryske said. “You can turn that into an endemic situation when you start to have controls. That would be vaccines, perhaps even treatment pills, although there’s nothing approved as far as treatments yet.”
After the brief discussion, Lyke said he was comfortable with Baxter’s verbal confirmation that she would consult with the health department about the plan, and the changes were approved unanimously.