Nearly 50 public school districts in Wisconsin remove mask requirements, despite CDC guidance to keep them in place

By: Ben Jordan

May 17, 2021 

Dozens of school districts across the state have done away with mask requirements despite the latest CDC guidance saying masks should be worn in classrooms due to low vaccination rates among children.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District is meeting Monday night to decide whether to toss its mask mandate.

Mequon mother Emily Landers says she has no concerns about her 5-year-old son being mask-less around his fellow unvaccinated peers, but she doesn’t see the point in doing away with the district’s mask policy now with just a couple more weeks until summer.

“I’m kind of on the fence. I don’t really care either way,” she said. “It’s just whatever is easiest for the students at this point, and it might be easiest to keep the status quo than to mix things up yet again for everybody.”

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Over the weekend, about 75 parents protested the Mequon-Thiensville School District’s mask mandate. Parents said they want the district to join a list of nearly 50 public school districts in Wisconsin that have either done away with masks in classrooms, or plan to do so for summer school. This includes school districts in Waukesha, Mukwonago and Cedarburg.

“I think it’s very important for parents to speak up and advocate with their local school officials for what they think is the right thing to do to keep everyone safe,” said Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake.

Secretary Timberlake said despite the CDC saying fully vaccinated people can safely remove their masks in most circumstances, the guidance is clear that face-coverings should still be worn in classrooms for the remainder of the school year.

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“We still have young children below the age of 12 who can’t yet get vaccinated, we have older children 12 and up who have only just become eligible, and so we need some time to make sure we can get all of those kids vaccinated,” she said.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 15,000 kids in Milwaukee County have tested positive for the virus, according to county data. 236 children were hospitalized, and one child died.

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Secretary Timberlake says parents who are fully vaccinated don’t need to worry about wearing masks around their kids, because research shows breakthrough infections appear to be increasingly rare. The state says as of Monday, 1,045 Wisconsinites have either tested positive or have a probable COVID-19 case after being fully vaccinated. That’s out of 2.3 million people who have completed their series of shots.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett admits the updated CDC guidance last week led to confusion for many about masks in classrooms, but he says Milwaukee schools will continue to follow science and public health.

“If the CDC recommends that they wear masks, I’m going to recommend they wear masks. If they say that it’s not a danger, then I’m going to follow that,” Mayor Barrett said.