The Owen-Withee School Board met in regular session on Monday, January 11, 2021. With a robust agenda, one topic brought dozens of local parents, healthcare professionals, and teachers—the requirements for masks for students and teachers.
Board President Dr. Julie Wendler opened the floor to discussion before the convening of the meeting. The parents in attendance mostly took one side of the masking debate. Todd Nelson recounted his middle school days of hating school and worried that his own children would suffer the same tensions. Nelson and 10-15 other parents wore black tee-shirts which read #UnMaskOurKids.
At one point, Dr. Wendler had to stop Nelson as the clock reached 7 p.m. and the meeting had to be called to order. After preliminary items on the agenda, Wendler returned the floor to Nelson and other parents who wished to offer their concerns. Nelson resumed his discussion wherein he worried about the effects of mask-wearing on young students, at one point making the extraordinary claim that forced wearing of masks could even lead to student suicide.
Trish Simenson offered a rebuttal in favor of masking. “Wearing a mask actually makes everyone the same,” she said. Speaking as a healthcare professional, she was concerned with limiting the transmission of the COVID virus and mask-wearing is one way to help mitigate the exposure.
Bob Wilczek read aloud a letter that he had penned in July of 2020 to the School Board. Wilczek made well-documented references to CDC guidelines. While congratulating the O-W schools for their cleaning and sanitizing habits, he added his concerns to that of Todd Nelson regarding the trauma of students being forced to wear masks.
Mother of four Cami Simenson reported on her petition against masking, stating that she had 141 signatures from parents and students. She criticized what she summarized as the school board “taking away our freedom of choice.” She told of her four children’s difficulties with wearing masks. “We want normalcy back,” she concluded.
District Administrator Bob Houts assured the parents that “nobody wants virtual schooling—not the school, not the parents.” Houts was very understanding of the parents’ concerns and opinions. In fact, the level of civility and decorum was remarkable for such a large gathering.
“We’re trying to be kind,” said Dr. Wendler.
“And you have been very, very kind,” responded Todd Nelson.
Board member Rick Eloranta thanked the parents for their attendance and voicing their concerns. Fellow board member Dean Schmelzer also thanked the parents and added, “Now go home and call Madison. You’ve told us, now tell them.”
In the end, the Board voted to closely follow the County guidelines and dropped the requirement of a face-shield for those students who had obtained a doctor’s note absolving them from masks.
The Board decided to continue most of the other policies implemented in the early months of the pandemic.
The Sentinel & Rural News covers the news and events of Clark County and southern Taylor County, as well as regional news that affects those areas.