An anonymous petition seeking stricter mask requirements in Janesville schools has garnered more than 850 signatures.

The petition on change.org asks the Janesville School District to settle the mask debate for students and staff by requiring masks for “any in-person instruction” in school buildings.

The district’s return to school plan, approved by the Janesville School Board on July 14, requires masks only in spaces where social distancing isn’t possible.

The petition calls for masks in all classrooms.

“An outbreak of COVID-19 in our schools would be disruptive to our children’s continued education, potentially unsafe for our kids and would be likely to spread into the community,” the petition reads.

“Any in-person instruction must require masks for all district employees and students. Firm insistence on this requirement is a basic safety precaution that we have seen countless private businesses take. Masks keep your students, your employees and the rest of the Janesville community safer and will also minimize potential future disruptions to our children’s education.”

The petition had 874 signatures at noon Wednesday.

“I’m a teacher,” one person commented on the petition. “I want to stay safe and keep my students safe. I want to keep my family safe.”

Another wrote: “I’m signing because I am a teacher. I want to keep myself and anyone I come into contact with safe.”

The petition applauds the district for offering educational options for students this fall and says at a minimum, masks should be worn in schools when social distancing isn’t possible.

The district had already established rules supporting this idea—masks will be required in schools when social distancing can’t be practiced, such as small groups or one-on-one instruction and hallway passing time.

Patrick Gasper, district spokesman, said the district has seen the petition and pointed to the district’s current mask requirement.

“We are aware of that petition, and would like to emphasize that the district plan is to require mask/face coverings by staff/students that can safely wear them in all areas where appropriate social distancing measures cannot be established/maintained,” Gasper wrote in an email to The Gazette.

The district plans to provide masks to those who do not have their own, and staff will be provided with a face shield if preferred over a mask. These changes are made following Rock County Public Health Department guidelines, the district website reads.

Masks will be optional at school in situations where social distancing can be practiced. The petition asks for masks in these situations, too.

School Board President Steve Huth said the board’s decision to require masks became easier when major retailers such as Festival Foods and Woodman’s began requiring masks earlier this month.

He hopes parents explain the importance of masks to students because he doesn’t want school staff to become “mask police.”

Huth said his grandchildren wear masks in public, and they don’t mind wearing them. He wasn’t part of the district decision but said mask mandates can be extremely hard to enforce and use.

Huth hopes students will be responsible, but he also understands there are times when students should have the freedom to choose.

“I think in some cases the concern is for children who are slightly claustrophobic or uncomfortable, you’d hate to turn a safety precaution into a disciplinary issue,” he said.

“I think the district also wanted to give a little bit of grace to students when they feel they are in a safe spot to be able to remove it and get comfortable. … We have that option as adults because we go to the store and can take it off when we’re driving our car. But in an eight-hour day in a school setting, children need to have the chance to remove it at least for comfort sake.”

The district will continue to evaluate all of its COVID-19 requirements as the situation develops, Huth said.