I attended the Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Board of Education meeting last Monday. I commend the Alert’s Carl Cooley for how well he captured the remarks made by individual speakers.

One thing that stood out to me were several speakers’ focus on the dedication of school leaders and staff, the unique challenges of this school year and how well the school has performed in the midst of those challenges.

What I didn’t hear was evidence that masks were necessary to keep the school safe and performing well.

We’ve already seen from published Barron County COVID-19 cases that there is no significant difference in individual community results based on whether schools require masks. While an individual school may have better results than others, the trend across our county communities has been similar regardless of recent mask policy changes.

It’s also important to remember that all Barron County schools had mandatory mask policies through March. So any case spikes or school closures that happened in the fall or winter occurred when everyone was fully masked.

I agree that our schools have done many things well this year. I applaud them for every step they’ve taken to gradually return to normal. I am grateful to live in an area where in-person school is the rule, not the exception.

But what is the lasting value of past accomplishments when masks continue to detract from the school experience? Do we now say that if our schools performed well during a difficult time, that’s good enough for the rest of the year because they’re good people with good intentions?

How does that square with what teachers expect of their students? Will teachers now tell their students that if they performed well in the first two trimesters, they can coast for the third trimester and expect the same grade? Or will teachers continue to expect their students to step up to new challenges?

That’s all those of us pushing for optional mask policies are asking schools to do: Rise to the challenge of changing your mask policy. The evidence shows that schools are just as safe with optional masks, and it’s better for our children.

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