Masks not required at handful of Wisconsin schools

Posted at 5:30 PM, Apr 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 15:04:59-04

WISCONSIN (NBC 26) — Masks are no longer required at several Wisconsin schools, according to posts on the schools’ website or social media pages.

Laona School District in Forest County and Three Lakes School District in Oneida County made masks optional, while the School District of Crandon in Forest County made masks optional in school for students and staff when social distancing is possible.

The changes were effective Tuesday; the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the statewide mask mandate last week.

Erin Ehlinger, who has children in first and fourth grades at Laona, applauded the change at the district.

“I think it’s great,” Ehlinger said. “I think they shouldn’t have required it in the beginning, but I understand why.”

Kerry Bailey said her grandson, a freshman at Laona, still wears his mask and she would like all students to do the same.

“...[I]t’s a health and safety issue, that’s just how we feel about it,” Bailey said.

School boards have broad authority to enact rules for their premises and activities, as long as the rule is not a violation of state or federal law, said Geoffrey Lacy, a Green Bay attorney who specializes in education law.

Asked in general whether lawsuits could be filed against a school if a student catches COVID-19 at a school without a mask requirement and has a bad case, Lacy anticipated claims but, “Proving [the school’s lack of controls are to blame] is going to be extremely difficult,” Lacy said.

The ability to create (or eliminate) a school mask mandate lies with the local school board, Lacy said. A board may delegate its authority to administrators, but has the power to overrule administrators’ policies, Lacy said.

Lacy would advise that a board ensure its insurance carrier would pay for the cost of a defense and any potential payout resulting from lawsuits, Lacy said when asked how he would advise boards considering whether or not to have a mandate.

From that liability perspective, Lacy does not anticipate school mask requirements will end on a broad scale until the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services declare the requirement is no longer necessary.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the CDC’s website urges universal mask use in schools.

Administrators at Three Lakes and Crandon did not return a reporter’s phone message Wednesday; an interview request with the Laona School District administrator was declined.

Three Lakes School District released the following statement Thursday:

"On March 31, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the statewide face covering mandate. Our Bluejay Return Plan referenced face covering wearing in conjunction with the state mandate, which no longer exists. Therefore, face covering wearing is no longer mandatory at Three Lakes School District. All other safety aspects of our plan remain in place.

Throughout the 2020-21 school year, we’ve had to make many difficult decisions on many different occasions. During this time, we’ve continued to consider not just the health, but also the safety and emotional well-being of our students. We are working through these complex issues as a district, and our greatest desire is to have a healthy and happy Bluejay family as we transition toward a more normal school year in Fall 2021."