MUKWONAGO — Mask mandates in schools appears to have created a divide among parents, students and educators.
The three largest school districts in Wisconsin will require students and staff to mask up. But in smaller, rural districts, more and more are choosing to make masks optional.
Some Mukwonago parents banded together to make change.
We spoke to Mukwonago father of three Dale Porter, who is excited his children will start this school year without masks.
“I’d look at the masks and they were really gross. They were filled with sweat and snot," said Porter.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction both recommend masks in schools, Porter says he found a group of parents on social media who shared his beliefs.
“It’s a good group to be part of, definitely,” said Porter. “There are people in there that have opposing views and they put them out there, which is good.”
When a seat opened on the Mukwonago school board, many threw their support behind fellow parent Vito Schwartz, who says he ran on a specific platform. “The biggest thing was ditching the masks," said Schwartz.
“You learn a lot in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps - they talk about the past, and the amount of people it took to make change," said Schwartz. "All the support I had was from the people in the Facebook groups.”
Last year, Gov. Tony Evers mandated masks in Wisconsin schools under an emergency health order. The state Supreme Court later overturned that order, leaving it up to individual school districts to decide what to do.
In Mukwonago, the school board voted for masks to be optional in the last few weeks of the last school year.
Porter was there, saying, “We voiced our opinion about unmasking the kids and the board voted for it, and the kids cheered.”
Masks will remain optional this school year.
Schwartz said, “The biggest thing is that people maintain their freedoms.”
District officials say students and staff will be required to stay home when they are sick. They will conduct contract tracing when a student tests positive. They will also provide free, on-site COVID-19 tests.
They will also enforce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any student or staff member caught bullying anyone wearing or not wearing a mask.
Porter agrees, saying “absolutely 100 percent. If my kids say anything to anybody wearing a mask, they know they're going to be in big trouble.”
The superintendent of Mukwonago schools says there is a virtual option this year for students. He says out of more than 5,000 students in his district, less than 30 chose virtual learning this upcoming school year.
Mukwonago is not the only district loosening pandemic policies. We spoke to the West Bend superintendent Jennifer Wimmer, who says masks will be recommended, but not required this year.
Hear Superintendent Wimmer describe the phases in place if there is a COVID-19 surge in the community.
“We do have intermittent masking in our plan, so we anticipate if transmission or general illness occurs, we work through phases of mitigation. So for our elementary, I can look at it by class. I could have two classrooms in ‘phase three’ and I got one over here in ‘phase one.’”
The West Bend superintendent says out of 6,500 students there, about 100 have chosen the virtual learning option this year.
Click here to see a compiled list of Wisconsin school district mask enforcement policies.
Regardless of the mandates schools put in place, masks are required on all school buses, nationwide. The Transportation Security Administration extended masks to be worn on all school buses through Jan. 18, 2022.