New updates to the mask mandate and how it affects our school

After the COVID-19 outbreak, the school board put mask rules in place. It is now encouraged for our academic community to wear masks at after-school events/activities but only required during school hours.

The administrative team continues to make recommendations to the board so that there are more options available for students and staff.

“In conversations about making masks optional with Jackson County Public Health, they suggested that if we wanted to begin stepping back some of our mitigation strategies, they would strongly prefer, and suggest, that we maintain the mask requirement currently in place, but that if we really wanted to begin an exit strategy to our COVID mitigation, then they recommend that we no longer require those identified as a close contact to quarantine,” said Superintendent Shelly Severson.

This has been a major topic of discussion for some time and will continue to be.

The mask mandate has been an ongoing conversation with the Board of Education since it began! The Board continues to talk about wanting an “exit strategy” so that at some point we know we can go to fully allow families to choose whether they will mask or not,”  Severson said.

The mask mandate is a rule that can be and is always changing due to how big outbreaks are.

Since making this change, Omicron cases have absolutely skyrocketed. There’s no way we could have kept up with contact tracing and quarantine phone calls had we not made the change,” Severson said.

The school district wants to keep everyone safe while also providing an enjoyable learning environment for students.

When asked about what changes we are hoping to see, I’d say that the Board would like to continue to employ mitigation strategies to work promote a safe learning environment, but that they also recognize that people are fatigued with all of it and are looking for what our highest leverage strategies were to keep, and what we could let go,”  Severson said.

The community’s response has been varied.

“As far as what type of reaction I was hoping for, to be honest, the entire topic of COVID mitigation has been highly contentious and seems to spark anger, frustration, and sometimes hate,” said Severson.

Students and staff also have mixed reactions. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the choice in masking only applied to after-school activities. I think that is the most fair decision the district could make in terms of keeping immunocompromised students safe while still giving families a choice,” math teacher Atlanta Stanton said.

Most people haven’t even noticed a change since the announcement of the new mask rules.

I have not had a chance to participate in an after school activity since the new mandate. So far, I have not seen any mask-less students in the halls after school, so it still feels like ‘business as usual’,” Stanton said.

The people of Black River Falls seem to have the same reactions as the rest of the world.

Our community is exactly like the rest of the country in their COVID mitigation thinking. It’s extremely unfortunate that it has been so divisive,”  Severson said. 

The district wants to try everything in their power to get things back to normal, but with the always changing circumstances, that’s tough.

I would love to be able to make decisions that are going to make everyone happy and feel great about their relationship with the SDBRF. That simply isn’t realistic,” Severson said.

There will always be different reactions and opinions regarding this topic. 

No matter what decision is made regarding COVID mitigation there will be some people that are furious and disgusted, and there will be others that are appreciative and supportive,” Severson said.

COVID-19 has affected everyone in this world, whether they want it to or not. Our great community can come together with love and compassion when someone is in need, we have individuals and organizations that are incredibly supportive and generous, and we have partners that provide so much for others,”  Severson said. “The current divide around COVID doesn’t change any of that. I have no doubt that we’ll get through this difficult time, I hope we come out stronger on the other side,”