Summer school

Fourth-graders-to-be June Wood and Jocelyn Bartlett work on a project during their LEGO Storytelling class.

The Stoughton Area School District had a plan for how it was going to enforce masking in its buildings as Public Health Madison and Dane County’s mask mandate was coming to an end on Nov. 27.

But parts of it will now have to wait, as the county renewed its mask mandate a day after the district’s announcement.

The district announced on Monday, Nov. 22, that it would require students and staff to continue wearing masks in district buildings through at least the end of December. Once students returned from winter break, older grade levels would be allowed to go to mask-optional, while younger students would need to keep wearing them into January to give their peers more time to become fully vaccinated.

In the Nov. 22 letter home to families, the district announced that students in grades 6-12 would not be required to wear masks in school buildings starting Monday, Jan. 3, although the district will continue to strongly recommend it for both staff and students. The switch from a mask requirement to a recommendation will happen for students in grades K-5 three weeks later, on Monday, Jan. 24.

The district is not offering guidance for its 4K partner sites once younger children are mask-optional, and will leave it to them to make their own determinations on mask requirements.

District superintendent Tim Onsager had teased the district’s need to make a decision on its masking policy at a Stoughton Area Board of Education meeting earlier this fall, after Public Health Madison and Dane County announced in early November it was not planning on extending its mask mandate after Saturday, Nov. 27. Whether or not the county had reconsidered its mask mandate or not, the district had policy for masking in place after it re-implemented a mask mandate as of Aug. 5 as cases of the Delta variant were rising.

“With the changes discussed above, we will use new data with our existing baseline data to closely monitor increases in in-school COVID-19 cases and adjust accordingly. You will notice that we have spaced out the changes, which should help with our ability to manage them and make necessary adjustments,” the letter to families reads.

The district’s mask mandate was set to have two exceptions through the remainder of the calendar year: Students in grades 6-12 will not be required to mask up while they are either actively competing in a sport or in a performance, and staff members may be inside the buildings unmasked if no students are present in the room with them. With the new county mandate, neither exemption will be allowed until it expires Jan. 3.

In a Nov. 23 letter home to families, the district announced a reversal of the exemptions.

“We look forward to the day we can make strides in our unwinding efforts,” the Nov. 23 letter read. “We hope to have more information for you in early December as we work with the county and review local data.”

The county’s extended mask mandate doesn’t change the district’s planned changes to its quarantining policies, where students who are considered a close contact of someone who has a positive COVID-19 case but do not have symptoms will now not be required to quarantine, the letter states. The district will continue to contact trace and notify people of whether they are considered a close contact.

In the Nov. 22 letter, the district had asked for families to be respectful of one another and their choices on whether they’re masked or not.

“Starting as soon as Saturday, Nov. 27, some of our students, staff and event spectators in some settings will be able to make a masking decision for themselves. It may be different than the decision you make for yourself and your family,” the letter states. “Choices are made based on a variety of factors that we don’t know about, and we ask that you respect others through your actions and your words.”

Stoughton schools could keep mask mandate through end of semester

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