Hello WAPS families,
Thanks to your continued support, cooperation and patience, we were able to navigate the most recent wave of COVID-19 transmission in our community without a disruption to in-person learning. Because of this commitment to work together, along with an improving situation in our community and our state, the WAPS school board on Thursday night approved the recommendation of the Incident Command Advisory Team to make an update to our health and safety protocols.
Beginning Monday, March 7, face coverings will now be recommended but optional for students, staff and visitors while in Winona Area Public Schools buildings. The CDC no longer requires the wearing of masks on buses or vans operated by public school systems, including early care and education/child care programs. However, masks will be required when students and staff return to school from quarantine or isolation in accordance with CDC and MDH guidelines, as well as when entering the health offices with illness symptoms in any school building.
The updated health and safety protocols can be found at this link.
Numerous factors went into making this decision. Positive cases in the school district and in the community are rapidly declining, and hospitalization rates continue to trend downward. Highly effective, widely available and easily accessible vaccines are preventing severe illness, and testing supplies remain available in our schools and the community. Staff members and students in Grades 6-12 have access to KN95 masks if requested.
While this decision will be celebrated by many of our families, we acknowledge that it may concern many others. We want to be clear: Families and students who prefer to wear a mask will be supported in their decision. Bullying or harassment will not be tolerated. Families, please take some time to talk about this with your children and stress the importance of respecting the personal choice of others. Also, while school staff will support any student who continues to wear a mask, they cannot enforce it at the request of a family. Please continue to have those conversations as a family.
We also know that this change in protocol may be confusing for our youngest learners, who for two years now have been told that wearing a mask keeps them safe while at school. Our elementary teachers will work to address this issue with their students.
We would like to share the following online resources that may help with these conversations at home:
- Coping with Anxiety as Mask Mandates Lift (Michigan Health)
- How to Deal With Bullying Over Face Masks in School (Boston Children’s Hospital)
- Reassuring Children (Philadelphia Inquirer Opinion)
- National Association of School Psychologists Resources
The lifting of the masking requirement does not mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The requirement could return if there is a significant increase in positive cases in the district, multiple positive cases connected to a classroom or activity, or a rise in community transmission. The Incident Command Advisory Team will continue to meet weekly to monitor the data and make recommendations to the school board if necessary.
This also doesn’t mean that we are abandoning other mitigation strategies, such as physical distancing when possible, cohorting groups to limit the number of students to come in close contact with one another, and asking students and staff who feel ill to remain home.
Students who have flu-like or COVID-19-like illness symptoms can return to school with a negative COVID-19 test if they have been fever free for 24 hours and their symptoms are improving. Rapid tests are available at every school office. Families can also call the school and request for their test kits to be delivered to their household. Students who do not get tested for COVID-19 can return once it has been five full days from the onset of symptoms.
Again, we want to thank you for your continued support and kindness not just the past two months, but the past two years. The COVID-19 pandemic may not be going away, but neither is our commitment to work together to provide a healthy, safe and welcoming environment for our students, staff and community.
Dr. Annette K. Freiheit
Winona Area Public Schools