Bliss Educational Services Center is the hub of school district administrative offices. (Metro Wire photo)

School district to relax mask requirements

By Brandi Makuski

Students over the age of four, staff, and visitors in the Stevens Point Area Public School District will no longer be required to wear masks while in school.

Superintendent Craig Gerlach announced on Thursday that the district would “strongly recommend” masks and face coverings, but beginning on Monday, Feb. 21, they will no longer be required inside district buildings. Masks will still be required on school buses.

Masks have been a requirement inside any district buildings for most of the past two years. Gerlach said COVID-19 cases and required quarantines have dropped significantly. Portage Co. on Monday moved its COVID level from “critical” to “very high,” and the transmission rate has dropped to below nine percent, according to the county health department.

“We believe it is important to be responsive to both the individual school and regional data provided by the county as decisions are made about mitigation strategies and learning environments,” Gerlach said in a news release Thursday afternoon.

“During the school year, we have slowly and carefully reduced mitigation measures including shortened quarantine and isolation periods, minimized social distancing requirements, allowed for visitors to enter district facilities, slowly integrated field trips back into the curriculum along with others, while simultaneously returning to ‘normal’ educational opportunities and activities for our students.”

Gerlach suggests that families discuss the issue with their students, and consider the following:

  • Talk with your family about the face-covering decision that is right for you. We will support your decision.
  • If you have a medically fragile student please stay in communication with your child’s case manager to implement safety strategies.
  • Students who are 4 years of age or younger are required to wear a face-covering.
  • Schools will inform and discuss this change with students in a developmentally appropriate manner, including how to respect the personal choice to continue to wear a face-covering/mask.
  • Be respectful if anyone requests that you remain physically distanced from them. We will continue to provide physical distancing to the extent possible in our classrooms.
  • If your student expresses anxiety, please do not hesitate to reach out to school counselors, social workers, or psychologists for additional support as needed.
  • Close contact tracing and identification will continue.
  • Testing and quarantine protocols will continue and masks will be required while completing isolation or quarantine.
  • Per CDC Order ‘requirement for persons to wear masks while on conveyances and at transportation hubs issued February 2020, all passengers and drivers on school buses are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Please remind your student(s) of the importance of wearing masks while on school buses.

Gerlach said the decision was made after “careful consideration of staff, parent, and community input to include the guidance of public health officials.”

“We take seriously our responsibility to provide students and staff with the safest learning environment to the extent possible,” Gerlach said. “While this will come as welcome news to some, it will create anxiety and concern for others. We will support your decision to wear or not wear a face-covering when in district buildings.”