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Most mask-optional school districts in Sauk, Columbia pivot to required masking as COVID cases rise
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Most mask-optional school districts in Sauk, Columbia pivot to required masking as COVID cases rise

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Just over a month into the school year, six area school districts have pivoted from optional masking to required, at least temporarily, as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the state.

In Columbia and Sauk counties, Lodi, Pardeeville, Reedsburg, Rio, River Valley and Wisconsin Dells districts started the year without a universal mask mandate. Now, they have joined six other districts across both counties that made masks mandatory since the beginning for at least some grade levels.

Only two districts — Cambria-Friesland and Weston — remain mask-optional, according to information available on their websites. Updated twice weekly, Weston’s COVID-19 dashboard showed three active cases and 37 COVID-related absences Monday, meaning almost 14% of its students were out of school due to testing positive or because they were a potential close contact.

Every school district in Sauk and Columbia counties — and almost every one across the state — currently has high community transmission, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services data.

Lodi has logged 25 positive cases among students and staff since Sept. 1 and identified almost 200 close contacts as of Sept. 24, according to its COVID-19 dashboard. Its school board implemented a mask requirement Sept. 20.

After shifting temporarily to virtual instruction amid an increase of cases, Pardeeville sent a letter to families Sept. 24 saying masks would be mandatory through at least Nov. 1. The district does not have a dashboard or any case numbers available online.

“We are aware that this decision might not be the direction that all of our families want, but since we started this school year we have worked towards maintaining face-to-face instruction five days a week. In weighing the options, this move appears to be our best option at this time to avoid additional closures, assist with keeping students and staff healthy, and least disrupt our school day,” the letter said.

The Wisconsin Dells School District also does not keep a count of its COVID-19 cases on its website, but it has posted several notifications about positive cases since Sept. 23. At that time it announced an increase in cases had resulted in some elementary classrooms temporarily pivoting to remote learning and Wisconsin Dells High School shifting to 50% capacity for about a week.

Four days later, it announced Spring Hill Elementary School had classrooms in which a staff member or multiple students tested positive. The school, along with the middle and high schools, also implemented temporary mask requirements “to further mitigate any spread of COVID-19,” according to the message. That requirement will be re-evaluated by Oct. 11.

Reedsburg in Sauk County has had 47 students and 10 staff members test positive between Sept. 1 and Sept. 24, according to its dashboard. Masks are temporarily required for everyone in Reedsburg Area High School, Webb Middle School and Prairie Ridge Intermediate School until Friday, according to the district’s website.

In Baraboo, which has mandated face coverings since classes began, 55 students or staff have tested positive since Sept. 1. District spokeswoman Liz Crammond said Monday there have not been any classroom closures in K-12. Two 4K classrooms are closed until Oct. 11, she said, because proper masking and social distancing is harder to maintain with children at that age. A 3K classroom is currently under review while staff conduct contact tracing, she said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, those classrooms will be closed down and reopened as soon as possible,” Crammond said.

Five of the 14 school districts in Sauk and Columbia counties do not post publicly available COVID-19 data.

Current mask policies and cases by district are:

Baraboo

Masks: Required indoors for everyone age 5 and older, regardless of vaccination status.

COVID-19 dashboard: 55 total confirmed cases as of Sept. 30.

Cambria-Friesland

Masks: Optional.

COVID-19 dashboard: 7 active cases and 15 students and staff in quarantine as of Monday.

Columbus

Masks: Required indoors.

COVID-19 dashboard: 84 positive cases and 458 close contacts since the school year started, as of Sept. 24.

Fall River

Masks: Required indoors for 4K-6th grade, optional for 7-12th grade.

No dashboard

Lodi

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Masks: Required indoors for everyone 4K-12.

COVID-19 dashboard: 25 positive cases since Sept. 1, as of Sept. 24.

Pardeeville

Masks: Required indoors through at least Nov. 1, 2021.

No dashboard

Portage

Masks: Required.

The Portage Community School District doesn’t have a COVID-19 dashboard, but District Administrator Josh Sween said in a video update Friday that the district has had a total of 60 positive cases since the start of the school year, 11 of whom were still isolating.

Poynette

Masks: Required.

COVID-19 dashboard: 68 total cases as of Friday

Reedsburg

Masks: Temporarily required indoors, regardless of vaccination status, in Reedsburg Area High School, Webb Middle School and Prairie Ridge Intermediate School. Policy will be re-evaluated by Oct. 8.

COVID-19 dashboard: 47 students and 10 staff members positive as of Sept. 24.

Rio

Masks: Required until further notice. The board will review the requirement at each regular board meeting.

No dashboard

River Valley

Masks: Required indoors at River Valley High School through Saturday and at the middle school from Tuesday through Oct. 15.

COVID-19 dashboard: As of Oct. 4, the district’s Early Learning Center and elementary school each have one active case; the middle school has five; and the high school has four.

Sauk Prairie

Masks: Required.

COVID-19 numbers: 4 active cases as of Sept. 28. Active case numbers for each school are reported in weekly messages sent to parents and posted on the district’s website.

Weston

Masks: Optional.

COVID-19 dashboard: 3 active cases as of Monday.

Wisconsin Dells

Masks: Temporarily required at Spring Hill Elementary School, Wisconsin Dells Middle School and Wisconsin Dells High School.

No dashboard

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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