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Monona Grove School District to require masks for all in the fall

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Students and staff will be required to wear masks inside Monona Grove School District buildings and on buses at the start of the school year, the district announced in an email to parents Monday.

Masks will be required for all regardless of vaccination status, and the district is strongly encouraging families including eligible students and staff who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as quickly as possible. Visitors to school district buildings will also be required to wear masks.

Pfizer says new data suggests a third dose of its COVID vaccine can strongly increase protection against the delta variant.

“When universal masking is in place in schools, close contact quarantines are reduced to almost zero. This means less disruption and more consistency for all of our students,” Monona Grove Superintendent Dan Olson said in his email to families. “Like the rest of the pandemic and public health crisis, no part of this planning process has been easy or straightforward because there is no single solution that works for every staff member and every family.”

Olson cited the need to protect students who are not yet eligible to be inoculated against COVID-19, as well as students and staff who are immunocompromised, as his main reason for implementing the districtwide mask mandate.

Students in Monona Grove schools will return to classrooms for in-person instruction five days a week at the start of the school year. The district will also offer an online learning option for families who would prefer to keep their students at home.

Monona Grove plans to implement a “bubble room,” a designated space for students and staff who become ill or show symptoms of COVID-19, where staff with personal protective equipment will monitor those with symptoms. Parents will be required to pick up their students within 30 minutes of the start of their isolation period should they become ill.

The district consulted a number of national and local health experts when making its masking decision, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Public Health Madison and Dane County.

Monona Grove’s decision mirrors that of the Verona Area School District, Sun Prairie Area School District and the Madison School District, all which earlier announced mandatory masking for all students and staff at the start of the new year.

DPI recommendations

Those districts are likely to be joined by more. On Monday, the state Department of Public Instruction issued guidance that strongly recommends universal masking in buildings and on school buses in all districts.

The state agency also strongly recommends vaccination for those who are eligible, frequent hand-washing, physical distancing in school buildings whenever possible and limiting nonessential visitors to buildings.

“As a former Wisconsin school district leader who led a school district through COVID last year, I know many students and families desire in-person learning and a safe return to the classroom this fall,” State Superintendent Jill Underly said in a statement Monday. “We want schools open for in-person instruction. And we want to keep kids, educators, and families safe. The joint guidance we are strongly recommending districts follow provides a roadmap for a safe return to in-person school.”

Public Health Madison and Dane County recorded a 121% increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 over the past two weeks. Since the end of June, the city-county health agency has seen a steady increase in the number of children under 18 who have tested positive for COVID-19. Children younger than 12 years old are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against the virus.

"This helps keep students and staff in school and frees up nursing time that would otherwise be needed for contact tracing."

Tremayne Clardy, Verona superintendent

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Elizabeth Beyer is a digital producer for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the team in 2019 and was formerly a data, video and audio reporter at the La Crosse Tribune.

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