The Janesville School Board approved linking future changes to the district’s COVID-19 mask policy to Rock County’s COVID-19 transmission rate and/or the vaccination rate of district students and staff by a 6-3 vote during its meeting Tuesday night.
The framework the board approved, which had the backing of district administration and the Janesville Education Association, will require mask-wearing inside district buildings until either 80% of staff and students in the district are fully vaccinated or Rock County achieves a low transmission rate based on rates laid out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Rock County Public Health Department. Rock County on Tuesday night had a high transmission rate, the highest of the CDC’s four transmission levels.
Under the new system, “nobody is required to do anything” as far as getting vaccinated goes, Superintendent Steve Pophal said. He added the health department had reviewed the new policy and supported its implementation.
Board members Cathy Myers, Jim Millard, Karl Dommershausen, Lisa Hurda, Elizabeth Paull, and John Hanewall were in the majority voting yes while Greg Ardrey, Michelle Haworth and Kevin Murray voted no. The current mask requirement runs through Oct. 28, so the new policy will be in place starting Oct. 29.
In presenting the new mask policy strategy, Pophal talked about how far the district had come since the pandemic began in spring 2020.
“Throughout the whole process, decision after decision, we’ve used the best information that we had under the circumstances,” Pophal said. “We’ve done that with the best of intentions and asked for grace along the way.”
Pophal said in September that a total of 53 students had tested positive for COVID-19 and that during the first days of October, there had been 44 new cases reported for a total of 97 positive cases so far.
“I can tell you that with 97 cases, if we weren’t masked, we would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 kids,” Pophal said.
Groans and chatter could be heard from the lobby outside the meeting room where residents were watching the meeting on a TV set after Pophal’s statement.
When the superintendent’s presentation was over, Murray moved to postpone the vote on the new policy until the Oct. 26 board meeting, but the motion failed 5-4.
Murray, referring to hundreds of students in a cheering section at a football game at Monterey Stadium on Friday night, asked how that situation can go on without masking but then students have to mask up for classes come Monday.
Colton Measner, a junior at Craig High School, addressed the board before Pophal gave his presentation and opposed the new policy.
“I would like to have a normal senior year, and we can’t have that with masks on our face,” Measner said. “We can’t call this our new normal. Today, there are 17 students and two staff members with COVID-19 in the district. The hypocrisy is that you don’t have to wear it during contact sports where we aren’t socially distant, but we have to when we are socially distant.”
Board President Myers explained her yes vote.
“I believe masks work,” Myers said. “I believe that our low numbers are the goal, and the masks are contributing to that. I believe that health and safety has to be a priority for our students.”