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Waunakee school board votes to end mask requirement, other COVID-19 measures

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WAUNAKEE (WKOW) -- When Waunakee students head back into classes for summer school next week, things will look a lot more like they did before the pandemic. No students or staff will have to wear a mask unless they choose to.

The Waunakee Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to make masking optional for students in 7th through 12th grades. However, there was more discussion about what to do for younger students, who aren't able to get vaccinated yet.

"For the short amount of time these kids have to wear a mask during the day, the risk just isn't, it just makes sense to say we're going to be safe," board member David Boetcher said.

He was the only board member to vote to keep the mask requirement in place for Kindergarten through sixth grade students.

"I think we're ready to put it back on the families," board member Brian Hoefer said. "I'm going to vote for family choice for masks all the way through."

That's what most parents who spoke at the meeting were asking for.

Several parents shared anecdotes of their children struggling to connect socially while having to wear masks at school, and one father said he was considering pulling his children out of the district if the mask mandate stayed in place.

But there wasn't consensus from all parents in the room.

Arial Barak said he and his wife strongly supported the mask mandate for kids because, while the pandemic is waning, it is not completely over.

"The CDC states children over two years of age should wear masks in public settings, and, to me, it doesn't seem to get much more of a public setting than a public school," he said. "The battle against COVID has not yet been won. Vaccinations, masks and social distancing are, without a doubt, our best weapons."

The board also voted to end the mask requirement for staff and voted to stop updating COVID-19 data on the district website. Families also won't have to complete daily health check forms going forward.