Back to School: School leaders weigh parent input and health expert advice on COVID-19 protocols

School leaders brace for in person learning; parents in Holmen, West Salem, Onalaska disagree on masks

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) – Schools in Western Wisconsin will start their school years in person, a different reality from last fall with virtual learning. As the Delta variant spreads, school leaders are put in tough positions to keep COVID-19 case numbers down.

There are disagreements between parents and school leaders on how to handle child safety. However, there is a common goal between parents and school leaders.

“Having students in person was the priority,” Cheryl Hancock said on Monday at Holmen’s School Board meeting.

The approach defending against COVID-19 brought tension into Holmen’s School Board meeting on Monday night.

“None of us look forward to coming here to have to stand up for our kids’ week, after week, after week, after week,” said Chad Updike, who is on the board of the Holmen Area Foundation, and advocated for optional masking for the Holmen School District Monday. 

The Holmen School Board required masks at the meeting, but a few parents in attendance showed their displeasure for the rule, one woman throwing her mask into the air before a police officer escorted her out of the room.

“Are you gonna remove every one of them Cheryl, and everyone else here? You guys are out of line,” Holmen resident Tony Szak said to Holmen school board members on Monday. “This board is going to see it in April when we vote new members in.”

Parents like Tricia Cichosz want a choice in her child’s health.

“If we start dictating what I know is best for my child, that’s where I have a problem,” Cichosz said.

Others argue districts are not doing enough. Sarah Stevens told the West Salem School Board on Monday why people should wear masks.

“I’m a dentist. I’ve been wearing a mask for 20 years. The reason that I wear a mask every day is to protect you,” Stevens said. “I don’t do it to protect me. I do it to protect you.”

Onalaska High School student Jessica Randall echoed Stevens’ point just down the road. Virtual learning affected her well-being last year. She said a mask is a small sacrifice if it means she gets to see her friends.

“The new highly contagious and deadly delta variant could lead both me and my classmates straight back to virtual school at my desk at home,” Randall said. “I would do just about anything to prevent that from happening.”

Administrators like Holmen School District’s Kristen Mueller are placed in the difficult situation of weighing parent input and health expert advice.

“We are making these decisions based on recommendations of health professionals regarding the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant,” Mueller said at Monday’s meeting.

Holmen School Board president Cheryl Hancock responded to frustrated parents saying they can’t please everyone.

“If you only believe in democracy when it works in your favor, but not when it works in a different position, then you don’t really believe in democracy,” Hancock said.

Other board members argued it’s best to air on the side of caution.

“What I am not willing to accept is someone dying because of a decision that I made as a board member,” said Anita Jagodzinski, a Holmen School Board member.

School leaders Coulee Region-wide are asking for people’s patience, and prepare for things to change as new information surfaces and experts learn more about these uncharted waters in public health.

“This obviously is an issue that doesn’t have any easier answer,” said Ann Garrity, president of the Onalaska Board of Education.

COVID-19 protocols vary for each school district in the region. Here is a list of schools and the links to their COVID-19 protocols and health guidelines.

Alma Center-Humbird-Merrillan School DistrictAquinas Catholic SchoolsArcadia School DistrictBangor School District – Black River Falls School District 

Blair-Taylor School DistrictBoscobel School DistrictCaledonia School DistrictCashton School DistrictCochran-Fountain City School District 

De Soto School District  – Eau Claire School District – Eleva-Strum School DistrictGale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District

Gilmanton School DistrictHillsboro School DistrictHolmen School DistrictHouston School District – Independence School District

Ithica School DistrictKickapoo School District – La Crescent School DistrictLa Crosse School District  Lansing (Allamakee) School District

Melrose-Mindoro School DistrictMenomonee School DistrictNorth Crawford School DistrictNorwalk-Ontario-Wilton School District

Onalaska School DistrictOnalaska LutherOsseo-Fairchild School DistrictPrairie Du Chien School DistrictRichland Center School District

Rushford-Peterson School district Seneca School DistrictSparta School DistrictSpring Grove School DistrictTomah School District

Viroqua School DistrictWauzeka-Stueben School DistrictWestby School District – West Salem School District – Whitehall School DistrictWinona School District  


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