After hearing from a dozen parents and with input from the Vilas County Health Department, the Northland Pines School Board affirmed continuing the district’s face mask policy through the end of the 2020-’21 school year June 4.

Of parents who provided input at last week’s school board meeting, six were in favor of wearing masks, five wanted the mask policy lifted and one favored optional considerations.

The Northland Pines School District has had a mask covering policy since the beginning of the school year last September due to the COIVD-19 pandemic.

District Administrator Scott Foster indicated the district’s goal was to maintain in-person learning and that has been accomplished.

“Our attendance has been the best in the last four years, which shows our kids want to be here,” said Foster. “Only one full classroom was closed, but no schools were closed. This is not the time to change our policy,” he told the board.

Parent Heather Hartman of Eagle River, said needed mask breaks for the students weren’t happening, saying her “10 year-old was bullied by the teacher” when the student asked for a mask break.

Vilas County Health Department Director Laural Dreger urged the board to continue the mask policy to the end of the school year, while Dr. Michael Schaars of Marshfield Clinic, stressed that “protecting individuals reduces spread in others.”

Parents gave their input on the mask policy.

The lack of mask breaks also was mentioned by parent Amanda Rainer, who has three children in Pines. She said she wanted masks to be optional, indicating she would “consider removing them (her children) from the district.”

Amanda Mortag of Eagle River also opposed masks.

“It’s my right to make decisions for my child, not yours; our children are suffering,” said Mortag.

Julie Wagner of Eagle River, claimed one school requires masks and another has no mask requirement.

“There is consistent rhetoric. The kids are fine, but staff are scared to say anything for fear of loosing their jobs,” said Wagner.

Chris McCanles of Eagle River, who has three boys in school, suggested that wearing masks be optional.

“Maintaining the mask order is a denial of reality,” said McCanles.

But Northland Pines Junior/High School Principal Dan Marien reminded the parents there is a positive COVID-19 case in the school this month.

“I had to call 27 families, but we have not had cases spread in the building,” said Marien. “With our (mask) policy this year, we kept in-person learning and will have in-person prom, graduation and sporting events; continue your policy.”

Bob Mason of Northwoods Child Development Center in Eagle River also supported masks in the schools.

“We cannot stop our efforts and need to follow the advice of medical experts since this is an insidious disease and we are in a pandemic and now have new variances,” said Mason, who admitted his center had two staff and two children test positive for COVID-19, but all came from outside sources.

Lonette Gregersen of St. Germain, applauded the efforts of the district in keeping in-person instruction throughout the school year and supported masks.

“Ventilation and mask wearing reduces the spread,” said Gregersen. “I’m worried about the variant next door that’s sending people to the hospital.”

Greg Tessier of Rhinelander, told the board he supports the mask policy.

“My son is here due to your special ed program that protects his health,” said Tessier. “Those who don’t want to wear masks, stay home.” 

Madeline Conrad of Sayner, suggested a number of things the board and administration needed to consider, including teacher feedback, dividing students into those who wear masks and those who don’t, and lifting the mask mandate in stages.

Chad Kirschbaum of Eagle River, said he never thought in-person instruction would continue throughout the school year.

“What you did is a minor miracle due to your efforts,” said Kirschbaum. “What the district is doing is working; continue.” 

But Nichole Ray of Eagle River wasn’t as supportive.

“What is the plan to get masks off kids so they can again smile at one another?” asked Ray. “My daughter will not return to Northland Pines if masks are required,” she added.

Following comments from the administration and public, there was no motion from the board to lift or change the mask requirement, therefore the current mask policy will remain to the end of the school year.

Other business

The board confirmed that senior graduation will be Sunday, June 6, in the fieldhouse, with up to six persons per graduate allowed to attend. There will be a prom Friday, June 11, also in the fieldhouse, with both a junior and senior prom court.

There is an ongoing discussion to have some type of get-together for 2020 graduates and staff only.