Jefferson Spelling Bee 012822 06-01282022201411 (copy)

Ian Levesque wears a mask while participating in a spelling bee in the library at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Madison on Jan. 28.

As Public Health Madison & Dane County lets its mask mandate expire on March 1, it will now fall to school districts and school boards to decide whether to continue their own mandates or not.

PHMDC announced Monday that it would not issue a continuation to its mask mandates as case and hospitalization numbers fall following the record numbers in January amid the Omicron wave.

Monday afternoon, Madison Metropolitan School District spokesman Tim LeMonds wrote in an email that, “As of today, we have made no changes to our COVID-19 safety protocols.”

“We are having discussions with medical advisors on the issue this week,” he added.

District administrative staff will hold their normal weekly meeting with those advisers Tuesday morning. The agenda includes an item on the PHMDC decision as well as a discussion of “K-8 masking outdoors, recess, cohorting.”

When asked in an email Monday afternoon if PHMDC still recommended schools continue universal masking policies, communications coordinator Morgan Finke deferred to districts.

“Schools and businesses are welcome to enforce their own mask policies moving forward and we encourage all school districts to consult with their medical advisory boards to help make a decision that is right for their district,” Finke wrote.

Masks will still be required on buses, regardless of any district decision, under federal mandates for transportation.

PHMDC has mandated masks since Aug. 17, before the 2021-22 school year began. That left the decision out of school officials’ hands, though many area districts, including MMSD, had already announced their own mandates at that point.

Now, however, they’ll have to wade into the waters of what has become a heated political subject at schools nationwide.

When PHMDC previously indicated it would end its mask mandate near the end of November — a decision it reversed before the date arrived — MMSD shared that it expected to continue its own mandate through the end of its second quarter on Jan. 21.

The most recent guidance for K-12 schools from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services states that “mask use is particularly important when physical distancing or other prevention strategies cannot be maintained.”

“The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that all students, teachers, and staff, regardless of vaccination status, wear well-fitting face masks at school,” the guidance notes, calling universal masking “the safest, most feasible approach to maintaining in-person instruction during the 2021-22 school year.”

Other recommended mitigation measures include vaccination, physical distancing of at least 3 feet between students while in classrooms and keeping students within cohorts throughout the day.

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