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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Mask Mandate Ends April 26 For Coleman School District

Issue Date: April 21, 2021

Starting Monday, April 26, students in the Coleman School District can decide if they do or do not want to wear face masks during classes or other activities in the school facilities.

The decision to repeal the district's mask mandate was made by a four to two vote of Coleman School Board after a long, hard, and passionate discussion at their monthly meeting on Monday, April 19. Votes against the repeal were cast by Scott Herzog and Board President Ryan Wendt. Voting in favor were board members Barbara VanDrisse, Jeremy Hoida, Joanne Nowak, Barbara Krause-Klug, and Corey Kuchta, who has been opposed to masks from the beginning and argued most vehemently in favor of the repeal.

Before reaching its decision the board heard from a large number of speakers, including many students who had conducted a survey showing that 87 percent of the students who responded were opposed to the mask requirement.

Because of the large crowd attending, the meeting was moved from the board room in the elementary building to the large gym in the High School. There were perhaps a hundred people in the audience. Some were in favor of retaining the mask requirement, but most appeared to be opposed.

After the board voted to end the mask mandate, Wendt moved to go back to the "hybrid model" of classes for high school and middle school, with students attending in-person classes two days a week and virtual classes two days a week.

"It makes me sick to have to do that...I was so proud to go back," Wendt declared before making the motion, which he admitted was unlikely to be approved. He said in fairness, after agreeing to Kuchta's request to make the mask mandate an action item, he felt they also had to include an option of going back to the hybrid model with smaller in-person class sizes.

Elementary/Middle School Principal Yvette Marshall asked why Wendt did not also propose the hybrid classes for elementary classes, since it results in smaller classes and easier social distancing. "Why aren't you protecting our elementary teachers?" she asked.

Wendt explained high school and middle school students change classes, while elementary students are in the same classroom all day, and limiting the number of contacts might reduce the chances of contracting Covid.

Nowak asked why Wendt felt all the students will come to school without masks if they are not required, but seconded the motion, which failed by a three to four vote. Votes in favor were cast by Wendt, Nowak and Herzog. Opposing votes were cast by Hoida, Kuchta, Van Drisse and Krause-Klug.

Masks may or may not be required on school busses after the school mask requirement ends because a federal CDC mandate requiring masks on all forms of public transit, including busses, planes, trains and boats remains in effect. That CDC mandate was just renewed in April, according to Tom Westlund, who provides school bus services to numerous schools in the area, but not to the Coleman School District.

First to speak during time for public comment at the start of the meeting was Matt Thomas, who favored keeping the mask mandate because he works at a school with many disabled students who would be at risk if he or other teachers became ill. He acknowledged that the masks are hot and uncomfortable, but said they are proven scientifically to work

The next speaker was a businessman who agreed that folks who want to wear the masks should have every right to do that, but said he has traveled the entire country repeatedly since the pandemic began, "and if I didn't watch the news, I wouldn't even know that there was Covid." He said he is more concerned about sending a generation of students out into the world unprepared educationally and emotionally because of mask impairments.

He referred to board policies that declare the district's motive of providing the best possible education, and added that last fall, the board made a decision "out of fear, not of faith." He said the school has become command central that uses fear as a tactic, and declared it is up to the parents to decide what is healthy for their children.

Third speaker was a student, a junior in high school, who handed out results of a survey to which over 100 students had responded. "Are students important important enough to have a voice in things?" he challenged. He said stress is an unhealthy thing that students face every day, and masks add to it. He quoted a medical doctor who advised that viruses are only 0.121 microns, and masks filter out only things larger than .30, so they are of no use against viruses. He said another doctor advises that masks are actually dangerous to health because they trap viruses, which then may be breathed in, and do not allow wearers to get enough oxygen.

He said according to the poll, over 3/4 of Coleman students voted to have the masks rule taken down, and challenged, "Why are we letting the minority rule the majority?" He said the masks are a distraction from learning, declared, "Students are ready to take over their freedom and take off their masks!" and urged the board, "Stand up with me for your freedom!"

His remarks were met by large applause.

The next speaker reviewed the survey that went out April 14 to 200 students. Of the 100 responses, 14 said they supported the masks and 87 said they do not.

He read the mission statement, cited attendance at homecoming in October with no Covid cases, said for the prom on Saturday, hardly any one wore a mask, and pointed out at lunch time students eat together without masks and without the six feet of social distancing, and the same applies when they are at their lockers.

"Students want to have the freedom to do what they feel is best for themselves," he declared.

Retired Coleman Teacher Paul Mueller spoke in favor of the masks, and said the issue is not just what is best for the students, but what what is best for the entire community.

He talked about the difficulty of getting substitute teachers and predicted that will get a lot more difficult if students are not required to wear masks. He said students are young and tough, but often teachers are not, and if teachers get sick and there are no substitutes to hire, "we could cripple the school district."

He spoke of the difficulty of going virtual, and declared they need to be going to school 5 days a week "to teach students as they deserve to be taught." he said there are only 33 days left of the school year and even fewer for the seniors, and asked why risk it.

Kuchta, later, said lifting the mandate means not only until school gets out for this year, but for summer activities that are held in the school and on school property.

Other speakers mentioned that most of the staff have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, 98 percent of people who got Covid recovered entirely, and argued the board is elected to represent the wishes of the people who voted for them, not necessarily their own personal preference, and expressed confidence that Coleman board members are neither arrogant nor ignorant.

Other speakers, many of them students, urged Coleman to follow the lead of Suring, Three Lakes and other school districts in the area that recently lifted their mask requirements. They also spoke of the importance of showing students that getting involved and speaking out is effective in a democratic society.

These anti-masking statements were met with loud and enthusiastic applause.

Kuchta took the podium with a speech he called, "I look forward to the day..."

He said he had not wanted to divide the community but felt the issue was so important that he had to speak out, for the good of his children, other children, their parents and the entire community.

During the debate on when to end the mask mandate, Kuchta challenged, "If not now, when?"

At the end, he proposed ending the mask mandate May 6, but District Administrator Doug Polomis said he felt everything could be in place by April 26, and that date would fit better with Human Resources considerations, so that was the motion ultimately made by Kuchta.

After the public comments board members Herzog and Kuchta, who were recently elected to new terms, were sworn in by Clerk Joanne Nowak and the board moved on to a long, hard meeting agenda.

(Report on other actions at the board meeting will be printed in next week's Peshtigo Times.)


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