GERMANTOWN — Several school districts in southeastern Wisconsin have made masks optional inside school buildings this school year, but face coverings are required on all school buses due to a federal mandate.
The distinction is creating some confusion and concern in the Germantown School District.
Superintendent Brett Stousland says the district is recommending students wear masks on school buses, but not requiring them despite the federal mandate.
On Wednesday afternoon, a TMJ4 news crew spotted more than a hundred Germantown middle school students pouring onto buses without a mask in sight. A bus driver wasn’t wearing one either as he took off with a busload of students.
Pam Schulz typically has her kids ride the bus home, but this year, she’s picking them up to protect her son, Drew, who’s immunocompromised.
“I’m exceptionally angry and frustrated, especially because I have a child who’s extremely high risk of getting COVID and extremely high risk of serious and significant consequences from COVID,” Schulz said. “He had a kidney transplant and if he gets sick enough and his kidney takes a hit, he could need another transplant.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended universal indoor masking for this school year, but since there’s no statewide mask mandate in Wisconsin, it’s up to each district to implement its own policy. Germantown opted to make masks optional in school buildings, but under a federal mandate, the CDC requires people to wear masks on public transportation, including school buildings.
"Buses are an enclosed environment that are very overcrowded at the moment because of the bus driver shortage,” Schulz said. “We've even had instances where kids are standing on the bus."
GO Riteway provides transportation to students within the district. In a statement, it says it does require passengers and drivers to wear masks on school buses, but that “the district is ultimately responsible for managing accountability with students for all behavior on the bus."
Before the new school year began, Superintendent Stousland says the district recommended students wear masks on buses, but refused to require them. In a statement, Superintendent Stousland said in part, "The district used the wording 'recommended' based on the GoRiteway statement that indicated they will 'not deny transportation to students who refuse to wear a mask.'"
Parent Steve Burbank says he fully supports the district’s position on masks on school buses.
“Yes, this pandemic is horrible, it’s spreading but when you get right down to it, the children seem to be the ones that aren’t affected as much and I just think after all that they’ve been through the last couple years like everyone that they should not have to have a mask on,” he said.
The CDC says people who refuse to wear a mask on a school bus may be subject to a civil penalty. Schulz says she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in an effort to hold the district accountable.
“They should be held liable for not complying with the federal guidelines and then they also should be held liable if anybody becomes sick,” she said.
Superintendent Stousland says the district will be working with GO Riteway to have a consistent message on masks for students, their families, and drivers.