SASB grapples with COVID policy

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Sparta School Board President Josh Lydon suggested a plan at Tuesday’s Committee of the whole meeting that he hopes could lift the recently-imposed mask mandate at district schools by late November.

The meeting was more sparsely attended and less contentious than the Sept. 8 meeting where board members voted to reinstate the mask mandate before an emotionally charged audience. However, there were a few spectators who quietly held up signs protesting the mandate.

Lydon’s comments came during a discussion regarding the metrics the district would use for monitoring the COVID virus.

He said he would like to revisit the mask mandate in late November or four weeks after the COVID vaccine rolls out for children ages 5-12, which could happen by the end of October.

The immunization process, which will likely be for the Pfizer vaccine, requires two shots two weeks apart followed by a two-week period for antibodies to build up. Lydon said four weeks after the vaccine rollout should give every parent who wants to have their children immunized against the virus the opportunity to do so.

He said after that, the mask mandate possibly could be lifted and other mitigations relaxed.

“Once that happens we can get pre-approval from insurance that we can open things up that way,” he said. “Then we’ve met our obligation as a district.”

Board member Nancy Sikorsky said the school district not only needs a predictable plan, it is going to need the community’s help, which includes getting vaccinated.

“Community spread affects what happens in the school,” she said. “If there is high community spread and low community vaccination we’re going to struggle with this a lot longer than we need to. While we can’t control that, we can at least ask the community for their help and appreciate their help.”

She added that everyone’s goal is to keep the school doors open for as long as possible, but the board has a moral and legal obligation to the staff, students and community to create a safe environment.

“We can’t just make up something. We have to follow guidelines,” she said.

James Rasmussen, who along with Heidi Prestwood were the only two board members to vote against the mask mandate, recommended the formation of a sub-committee of stakeholders, including parents in the district, who should weigh in on the matter “to see if they can come up with something that is palatable for everybody.”

Prestwood agreed, suggesting a community survey or holding a special meeting and inviting community members to be part of the process.

Lydon said he appreciates community input but warned the board is not going to form a decision that makes everyone happy.

He also wants to push back on the Monroe County Health Department’s quarantine policy, suggesting it’s too restrictive.

“If we’re all masking in the classroom and the masks work, why are students in close contact with someone who tested positive in the classroom quarantined?” he asked. “When it comes to getting rid of masks, if the county doesn’t change how they’re doing quarantines, a lot of this doesn’t change.”

The board made no decision Tuesday and plans to revisit the matter over the coming weeks.

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