After more than an hour of written and oral public comments focused on district mask-wearing policy at the Milton School Board meeting Monday night, the board voted 4-3 to change the mask-optional policy it approved earlier in the summer to a universal masking policy that could be reviewed by the board on a monthly basis.
The new policy requires masking for all students in 4-year-old kindergarten through 12th grade, staff and visitors on school grounds and during district events, according to a district memo. The mask rules would apply “when indoors and in the presence of others regardless of physical distance,” the memo stated.
People could be exempted from the mandate with a note from a medical provider, and universal masking would not be required during outdoor activities such as recess or gym class, according to the memo.
The newly enacted policy also says the school board “should” review the masking requirement during the second of its regularly scheduled meetings each month.
A commotion could be heard coming from the meeting room after the vote via the school district’s livestream of the meeting. One voice that could be made out said there would be consequences for board members come election time in the spring.
Board members Rick Mullen, Shelly Crull-Hanke, Dave Holterman and board President Michael Hoffman voted for the change; Joe Martin, Leslie Hubert and Jennifer Johns voted to preserve the previous mask-optional policy.
More than 30 people signed up to participate in the meeting’s public comment period before the vote, and about the same number of written comments were read during the meeting.
“I have respect for all in this room,” Hoffman said before the public comment period began. “I want this to go in a way that would make our children proud of this community because we are adults. I want us to be able to conduct this meeting in a manner that our children can say, ‘That’s how adults respond and act.’”
A faction of attendees in favor of preserving the mask-optional policy the board approved earlier this summer applauded for like-minded speakers. A group that wanted a universal mask rule instated did the same for comments with which they agreed.
Milton student Peyton Miller, who said she was going into fourth grade, spoke first.
“There are many reasons why I don’t want to wear masks at school.” she said. “It’s difficult to breathe with a mask, and it’s hard to go through the whole day without seeing anybody smile. And I want to see my teacher’s face. I don’t like how the mask makes me feel uncomfortable throughout the day. I hope you choose a mask choice for this school year. I support other students that make the choice to wear a mask and I just hope that you would give me the same choice to not wear a mask. Thank you for letting me speak.”
Many parents of Milton students spoke. One parent whose first name was Vanessa said, “I believe we have two sides that are very afraid. One side’s afraid of losing freedom possibly being injected with vaccines they don’t want and having all their constitutional rights taken away. The others are afraid of them or their loved ones becoming ill, the world shutting down again, basically taking out the whole of humanity. The fact is probably neither of these extremes will ever happen.”
High school student Evan Chavis shared his thoughts, as well.
“I just want to almost kind of reach across the line and say that it truly is a choice,” Chavis said. “Whether or not you view it that way is up to you. Yeah, it does protect other people. But as Benjamin Franklin once said, those that sacrifice freedom for safety, both deserve and will receive neither.”
Several written comments urged the school board to follow the advice of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require masking on school grounds.
As the public comment period wound down, some of the spectators began chanting, “My child, my choice!” Hoffman warned if the shouting continued, the meeting would be adjourned.
After the public comment period, Superintendent Rich Dahman provided a pandemic update from the Rock County Public Health Department and went on to discuss the universal masking proposal. Dahman said he spoke with local pediatrician Dr. Daniel Beardmore of Janesville, who wrote a letter to the board recommending universal masking for the schools. In the letter, he wrote that masking in schools last year was part of the reason they were able to stay open for so long, among other reasons.
In his own letter to parents distributed before the meeting, Dahman recommended adopting a universal mask policy for all individuals in the schools.
“I also want to acknowledge the difficult decision that our school board members have made and continue to make,” Dahman wrote. “These seven individuals all weigh this and every issue heavily and work together to make decisions in the best interest of our entire student body.”