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MMSD will require masks while indoors to start 2021-22 school year
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MMSD will require masks while indoors to start 2021-22 school year

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Students and staff were required to wear masks throughout the spring in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

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Students and staff will be required to wear masks inside Madison Metropolitan School District buildings and on buses to begin the 2021-22 school year.

MMSD announced its COVID-19 safety measures Thursday, about six weeks before the school year begins.

“Where the rubber hits the road is on masking,” Dr. Gregory P. DeMuri, a faculty member in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said in a district news release.

“We mask so we can have a safe, productive school year, keep our schools open, and have sports and co-curriculars like band and all those great things our kids are doing now that they weren’t doing a year ago.” 

[MMSD to return to five days a week in-person instruction in fall]

The district announced its plans for a return to five-days-a-week, in-person instruction this fall earlier this summer. Up to 250 students in grades 6-12 will have a virtual option through the Madison Promise Academy.

Masks will not be required during outdoor activities or while eating and drinking. Students can work with school personnel to determine if an exemption is appropriate, while staff can be granted an exception by human resources.

If a student is unable to wear a mask, six feet of distance should be maintained, according to the district’s health and safety protocols on its website.

Additional mitigation measures include maintaining at least three feet of physical distancing when possible, cleaning throughout the day and following proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

Madison Teachers Inc. president Michael Jones offered support for masking and other mitigation measures developed collaboratively in an emailed statement. Jones stressed the importance of listening to school-level staff to provide the best mitigation possible at every building in the district, which all come "with their own advantages and challenges."

"When we discuss coming together to support our kids and community to eliminate risks associated with this pandemic, we must match our words with our actions," Jones wrote. "Continuous collaboration at each school/location, listening to each other, adjusting our practices instead of relying on a top-down approach remains the most effective way to keep everyone safe now and in the future."

[To mask or not to mask? School districts face a mix of parent opinions and expert guidance]

Earlier in the day, the state’s Department of Health Services had recommended vaccination to anyone who will be in a school and is eligible to receive one. Those who are vaccinated will not be required to quarantine even if they are deemed a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics have issued conflicting guidance on masks, leaving districts to make a decision without uniform guidance. The CDC said earlier this month that those who are vaccinated do not need to wear a mask, while the AAP said this week that everyone in schools should wear a mask.

Children under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine. According to the Department of Health Services website, 27.4% of children ages 12-15 have completed their vaccination schedule and 37.8% of those ages 16-17 have done the same.

In Dane County, those numbers increase to 60.2% and 72%, respectively.

Public Health Madison & Dane County, which had a mask mandate that applied to schools through June 2 this year, anticipates announcing its guidance next week, according to an email from PHMDC communications manager Sarah Mattes.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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