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School District of Rhinelander Board Adopts Optional Mask Policy with Room for Admin Changes

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The School District of Rhinelander Board voted 7 to 1 Monday night to make masks optional for the start of the school year, but the administration will have the power to change the protocol based on COVID-19 conditions.

Roughly 100 people showed up to the board’s latest meeting. Most were against allowing the administration to require masks at any point. 

CDC reccommends universal masking in schools for staff and students, regardless of vaccination status. 

Credit Department of Health Services
Oneida County COVID-19 cases.

Last school year, the School District of Rhinelander did have a mask policy to start the school year. At that time Oneida County was averaging one to two new COVID-19 cases a day. Right now, preliminary data from the Department of Health Services shows the county averaging 5 to 6 new cases a day. 

Dennis Drescher was one of 10 people who spoke against a mandatory mask policy during the public comment period, asking the board to vote against the mask ‘lie’.

“Don’t force the lie on them. Don’t force the lie on the people have conscious against it. Be honest with yourselves when you vote,” said Drescher.

Many people who spoke against masks were concerned about the long-term impacts of kids having to wear masks.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Congressman Tom Tiffany speaks against a mandatory mask mandate during the Rhinelander School Board meeting Monday night.

Congressman Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) spoke against masks at the meeting, equating the CDC guideline on masks to its one on eating raw cookie dough.

“Wearing a mask comes at a cost, also, in terms of the educational outcomes for the school. I would say not only the educational outcomes, but also for the social outcomes that we all hope to have happen within our schools,” said Tiffany.

New state-level data analyzed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association shows that children accounted for roughly 15% of all newly reported COVID-19 cases across the nation for the week ending on Aug. 5.

Science has clearly shown that mask wearing prevents the spread of viruses like COVID-19 by blocking droplets given off my someone carrying the virus.

Studies have also shown they can reduce exposure to virus for people who are not infected.

David MacFarland urged the board to follow the science.

“It’s disheartening that I need to come to school board meeting and argue that you should follow the science rather than following the politics, but here we are,” said MacFarland. “I urge you to follow the science. You need to keep our children safe. I urge you to enact policies for the upcoming school year. That are similar to the policies last year. They were effective. They worked.”

Rhinelander High School teacher Kelsey Thompson says the district's mask policy worked for them last year and ask the board to keep it in place.

“It is unimaginable, unconscionable that we would have to wait until a student or a staff member dies before this is taken seriously,” said Thompson.

The superintendent says the district’s overall goal is to keep schools open for in person learning five days a week for the entire school year.

Federal, state, and local health officials say people should wear masks indoor in public spaces. 

They also recommend people get the vaccine if they are able. There is no vaccine currently approved for those under the age of 12.

You can find a vaccine appointment at vaccine.gov.

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