Salem School District board working toward protocol that could invoke mandatory masking with enough active cases

The Salem School District board at a special meeting Wednesday evening approved a new protocol that would invoke mandatory face coverings if a certain number of active COVID-19 cases at the school is reached.

Current policy at Salem School is that masking is voluntary.

But the motion approved in a 4-1 vote (Steve Brown voting against) included inadvertently erroneous language that did not reflect the board majority’s consensus. Therefore the board will try again at a special meeting next week.

“The motion,” said board President Dana Powers in a statement emailed to westofthei.com, “does not match the intent of the board which was to increase each level by one percentage point, rather than 2 percent as the motion suggests. To provide clarification, the board will reconsider the motion wording at the Special Board Meeting next week, Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at 6:00 p.m.”

The Wednesday action also eliminated temperature checks from the protocol.

In September, the administration team had submitted a protocol for consideration that called for specific mitigating actions to be taken if various levels of COVID-19 positives were reached among the school students and staff.

The third or orange level in that proposal called for among other measures:

  • Grades 6-8: Masking is mandatory in the building in all situations where social distancing cannot be maintained (partner activities, small groups, in specials or Advanced Algebra, hallway transitions). When seated at desks and working independently, students may remove their mask.
  • Grades 4K-5: Masking is mandatory.
  • Staff masking would be mandatory.

The fourth or red level calls for mandatory masking in the building under all circumstances.

The original proposal was rejected in a split vote on Sept. 23 and again at the beginning of the special meeting Wednesday.

At the September special meeting, 12 members of the public spoke. Eleven said they opposed mandatory masking. One said they were ambivalent about masking, but would object to mandatory vaccination for COVID 19.

No citizen comment was included on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

Also at the September meeting, results of surveys of school families and staff were presented.

In the family survey, mandatory masking through the end of the semester was supported by 45 percent of the 611 respondents while 25.53 percent did not support mandatory masking regardless of transmission level.

In the staff survey, mandatory masking through the end of the semester was supported by 63.11 percent of the 103 respondents while 9.71 percent did not support mandatory masking regardless of transmission level.

On Wednesday, the board also voted on an indemnification agreement with Kenosha County that would effectively allow the school district to continue to carry out contract tracing and make decisions about quarantining of students and staff. The district’s legal counsel recommended having the agreement in place if those activities were to continue to be done by the school, said district administrator Connie Valenza. That measure passed with Powers voting against.

The indemnification will not go into effect until also approved by Kenosha County.

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