West Salem superintendent disputes rumor that districts get bonuses for requiring masks

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) — West Salem School Superintendent Ryan Rieber made a point of Monday evening of debunking a rumor circulating since he shifted the district from optional to mandatory masking to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

“No state or federal bonus or incentive goes with masking,” Rieber said during a school board meeting. Claims to the contrary are “completely false.”

Rieber explained that his decision last week to resume mandatory masking was based on increasing numbers of positive COVID tests and quarantined individuals in the school district.

Rieber outlined the numbers before the meeting opened up for public comments, which were split fairly evenly between parents who favor the requirement if it keeps children in face-to-face classes. However, parents who insisted that only parents should be allowed to make masking decisions were more strident and seemed to generate more applause in the crowded room.

One parent, who suggested that masking is a conspiracy to change school governance, hinted that such an opportunity will come when school board seats are up for election.

The district’s protocol pivots on two concerns, Rieber said: Primarily, what the COVID status is within district buildings, and secondarily, circumstances in the community.

When the district had full in-person classes from Jan. 25 to June 3, schools experienced 30 positive cases, Rieber said. Between Sept. 1 and Monday, the COVID tally was 48, he said.

As of Monday, positive tests were recorded for 13 elementary students, four middle schoolers, 11 high school pupils and four staffers, Rieber said. Meanwhile, 42 elementary students were quarantined, as were 30 middle schoolers, 14 high schoolers and four staffers, he said.

The new masking rule is to be in effect for three weeks and then be revisited, the superintendent said, adding that that shows the district’s commitment to end masking when possible.

“If we didn’t make the decision, (it was possible) that somebody else would” end in-person schooling and go online, said Rieber, who also said the district will consider requests not to mask based on medical and religious bases.

Rieber stressed that the district is striving to return to normal as soon as possible, adding, “When we work together to stay together, good things happen.”

Parent Steve Martin, who described himself as a conservative, noted that masks are inconvenient and wearing them is “terrible, it sucks, but … if it helps keep our kids in school … then masks don’t suck so much.”

His three daughters say they would rather wear masks than go to online learning, Martin said.

“Keep them in school, safe and learning in person,” he said, a position several parents endorsed.

On the other hand, Sherie Grass said the only place people wear masks these days are in hospitals, clinics and schools. Wearing them in schools is ridiculous, she said.

Several parents insisted that masks themselves are unsafe and do more harm than good.

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