A group of Mauston parents and doctors have asked the Mauston School Board to reinstate masking for students and staff in school.
“I know masking is not popular or comfortable, it’s hot,” said Bridget Christensen, a parent in the district and Library Director of Hatch Public Library during a meeting of the Mauston School Board Sept. 20. “But the data is clear that masking is a piece of a larger mitigation strategy.”
Mauston schools, like all schools in Juneau County, are currently operating with masks optional except on buses, where a federal mandate governs that all riders must wear masks. The board made a 5-2 decision in August to not require masks on school grounds.
“When I have an issue with my car, I take it to J and M or to Kudick’s (Chevrolet)… If I have a problem with wiring or electricity, I go to Greys (Electric),” Christensen said. “We have experts in our community that we go to and that we trust, and they have years of training and experience and education in their particular fields and I don’t … when the World Health Organization, when the CDC, when scientists and experts around the world are backing what are local medical community, what local health officials are saying, that we should be masking inside, then I trust those people.”
Christensen said she wants her kids to trust and respect experts like doctors and teachers, but by not following the CDC guidelines and not listening to public health experts the school district is “modeling a behavior that says we don’t care what experts say.”
“We’re showing our kids that we think we know better than people who have been trained in these areas,” she said.
Dr. Ryan Plamman, a pediatrician for Mile Bluff and parent of three children in the Mauston School District, commended the district for the job they did mitigating COVID-19 during the previous school year but warned that going back to decreased mitigation efforts like not requiring masks could lead to increased illness.
“Specifically, in Juneau County, case counts have increased by 600% from June to August, the latest data from September shows a continued increase,” Plamman said. “In the summer months as case counts were low, (not masking) may have been a reasonable decision… however we are sitting at a different place here in September.”
Plammen said masking is “one of the most important measures” the district can take to reduce the spread of COVID.
“My kids are all under the age of 12, they will get the vaccine when it’s available… my kids, I feel like they are not protected because they cannot get the vaccine, that’s why all this masking and other stuff is so important,” Plamman said. “I’m proud of the work schools do, I’m proud to send my kids here and I think you guys are entrusted with the safety of our kids, and I want that to be foremost in the upcoming decisions with the rest of the school year.”
Dr. Leon Radant, a physician at Mile Bluff, said the country is again having an excess of 2,000 deaths a day in the country and the Delta Variant of COVID is everywhere.
“The long term effects of having COVID on children who have experienced these infections, special consideration is given to those with persistent symptoms- fatigue and other lingering compromise from COVID infection,” Radant said. “There are now reports of young adults with these symptoms showing atrophy, or shrinkage of their brain tissue on imaging studies. Are children at risk for these long term consequences from COVID infection? The fact is, I don’t know, but more importantly in the context of this meeting, you do not know.”
Radant referenced the case of a 13 year old boy with no underlying conditions who died of COVID in Fort Atkinson, with the district voting to instate a mask mandate two days after the death.
“We heard much about civil liberties, it seems the Fort Atkinson board got the message that civil liberties end at the line where the safety and well-being of others is effected,” Radant said.
Regarding Mile Bluff, Radant said the hospital system is staffed with trained medical professionals who have chosen the Juneau County community to raise families.
“Do you think they question their choices after the school board votes a decision that is contrary to the recommendations of virology and public health experts?” Radant said.
Radant and Plamman are two of 19 medical doctors, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in Mile Bluff that sent a letter to all schools in Juneau County last week requesting improved safety measures, like masking.
Rebecca Richards-Bria, the Mauston City Attorney, noted she was not speaking in her capacity as an attorney at the board meeting but asked for the district to reinstate the mask mandate.
“If my child gets sick, gets seriously ill from this virus, will you be able to look me in the eye and tell me that you did the right thing, that you made the best possible decision to keep our children safe?” Richards-Bria said. “If one of our teachers is lost, will you look me in the eye and tell me you did the right thing? If we have kids in this district who lose a parent, will your decision still be the right decision?”
Richards-Bria said the district should listen to those trained, who have the knowledge and skills like doctors to lead the district through the pandemic, rather than members of the general public.
“What will it take, what connection to us is it going to be before we understand that we are a community that needs to come together and make the right decision for all of us,” Richards-Bria said. “How close does it need to hit home before it’s real to us? I don’t want it to be my kid, I don’t want to see it effect any of you, I don’t want to see it affect our community.”
According to Mauston District Administrator Joel Heesch, the district has experienced 11 cases since the beginning of the school year and four cases are currently active. The districts COVID mitigation plan is available to view at maustonschools.org/district/covid-19-coronavirus.cfm.
Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.