Arguments over mandatory masks prompt outbursts, scuffling at Sparta Area School Board meeting

Sparta Schools Winter 13

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) — The Sparta Area School District, which has become perhaps the most contentious battleground in the region over mandatory masks to thwart COVID-19, remained so Tuesday night when a school board meeting erupted in loud outbursts from opposing sides of the issue.

Ultimately, the board voted 4-2 to revisit the issue four weeks after a vaccine is available to children younger than 12.

The meeting was in-person at the Meadowview Middle School Cafetorium, as well as the audio’s being Zoomed for those who could not attend. However, the Zoom view did not show what sounded like scuffling as some hollered for someone or several to be ejected from the meeting.

A witness at the meeting told News 8 Now that a man, while trying to demonstrate that masks work, used a pressure washing device and sprayed a sheet that two people were holding. The witness said the man then sprayed above the sheet, hitting people in the audience with water. The witness says the man was escorted out of the meeting by a Sparta police officer.

Several times during the portion of the meeting open to public comment, board President Josh Lydon asked the audience to refrain from outbursts.

Comments ranged from calm appeals both against and for the district’s mandatory mask policy to more snide remarks, which the board endorsed in a 4-2 vote nearly three weeks ago.

That vote propelled a movement to recall two board members who had voted for the mandate, and one of them, Eric Solberg, has since resigned.

Bryant Neville, saying he felt he needed to speak to board members like he does to his 4-year-old, said, “Are you ready to listen? Do you have your ears turned on?”
Insisting that the board had not listened to community sentiment before the board vote, Neville said, “We will not be ignored. … We’re done having you be the judge, jury and executioners.”

Neville and other opponents said whether to mask children should be a matter of parental choice.

He urged the board to switch back to optional mask wearing, adding, “If you’re not ready to make some changes, we will.”

On the other hand, Joyce Emery acknowledged the difficulty the board faces in crafting policies and encouraged the board to continue the mandate, which she described as “the right thing to do.”

A retired health care worker said he is gathering a petition, with 350 signatures so far, to keep the mandatory mask policy.

Several speakers contended that masks are safe and the best way to stifle COVID-19, especially among students 11 and younger who cannot be vaccinated. Others disputed that, saying masks are dangerous, to the point of being breeding ground for germs.

Superintendent Amy Van Deuren presented statistics comparing COVID-19 numbers in the Sparta district with the Tomah School District, which has optional mask wearing.

The statistics indicated that Sparta is faring better, Van Deuren said.

After discussing whether to change to optional or maintain mandatory masks, the board voted 4-2 to wait until four weeks after the vaccine becomes available to the younger children to determine what to do going forward. Parents will have to decide on whether to have their children vaccinated, Lydon said.

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