School board changes mask mandate

Masks optional, not required in Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District
Wittenberg-Birnamwood Superintendent Garrett Rogowski gives his recommendation to the school board that the mask mandate should be changed from required to optional at the April 26 school board meeting in Wittenberg.

Luke Reimer | NEW Media
Luke Reimer

Masks are now optional in the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District.

The Wittenberg-Birnamwood School Board voted 6-2 to change the requirement of masks to optional for the entire school district at its April 26 meeting.

Voting against the proposal were board members Laura Magee and Dan Stewart. Board member Rich Olson was absent from the meeting.

Around 20 people were in attendance at the meeting to listen to the discussion surrounding the masks, as well as voice their opinion on what they believe should happen with masks in the school district. The overwhelming majority felt that masks should be optional.

One audience member, Paul Yaeger, who has one child in the school district, led the charge.

“Masks should be optional,” said Yaeger. “If someone wants to wear it, that is their choice.”

Yaeger also said that a problem with the masks was the room that air has to get into the nose and the mouth.

“People wearing glasses often have their glasses fog up,” Yaeger said. “I can put my hands by my cheeks and fell air blow out when I exhale.”

Shannon Seegmiller, a Wittenberg resident with three children in the school district, said wearing masks also causes some students to fall behind in learning.

“Those students who read lips and facial expressions are having their learning affected because of the masks,” said Seegmiller.

Superintendent Garrett Rogowski recommended the board should change the mask mandate from required to optional, now that the Wittenberg-Birnamwood area has better access to vaccinations and is seeing fewer cases. Given those circumstances, Rogowski said he wanted students and parents to have the freedom to choose if they need to wear a mask.

“The numbers are low enough where we can manage to be in school with masks being optional,” said Rogowski.

Rogowski also said that he kept the students and their school experience in mind when making his recommendation.

“The students deserve a good school experience,” said Rogowski. “We want their high school experience to be memorable.”

Rogowski said April 28 that masks being optional had had a positive effect on the students and staff so far.

“The effect has been positive,” he said. “This gives people in the school freedom. We will respect their decision if they wear a mask, and we will respect their opinion if they don’t wear a mask.”

Rogowski said the community has been appreciative of the board decision to change the mask mandate from required to optional.

If someone in the school were to contract COVID-19, Rogowski said that the same protocols are in place as when masks were required.

“We want to address the individual and make sure they are OK and quarantine them,” said Rogowski. “We will then contact trace and identify who the individual has been around. We will then continue to clean the school and make sure that good hygiene is practiced.”

Rogowski collected information from the school nurse, county health board and CDC to formulate his recommendation. Rogowski also collected information from the staff in the school district to hear their opinions on a possible change to the mask mandate. According to Rogowski feedback was split on the question.

The change to the mask mandate went into effect April 27.