Ripon School Board.JPG

A violent storm is on the horizon.

Meteorologists are identifying it on radar, charting its wide path and telling viewers to be cautious to spare injuries and death.

Some cities in its trajectory are advising residents to move to shelter, now, before the winds pick up and the rains fall.

But others are hiring storm spotters, telling their citizens they can remain outside, suggesting they may want to seek protection indoors once the storm hits.

In this metaphor for the next COVID spike, guess which “city” is the Ripon Area School District?

Last Monday the district decided to start its school year by “strongly recommend[ing]” unvaccinated students be masked. That’s an odd distinction — vaccinated vs. unvaccinated — as scientists agree that vaccines don’t lower the viral load of Delta variant breakthrough cases, meaning that vaccinated people can still transmit COVID to others. University of Oxford scientists, the day after the Ripon School Board voted 6-3 against requiring masks for all students and staff, released results of a much heralded study showing that people who contract the Delta variant after being fully vaccinated carry a similar amount of viral load than those who catch the disease but aren’t immunized.

Ripon School Board members are sufficiently serious about the coming viral infection to hire two new “office nurse assistants” at an unspecified cost to taxpayers to work five hours a day five days a week to test students for COVID positivity should they show possible symptoms, even though many asymptomatic children with the virus are able to transmit COVID to teachers, aides and other youngsters.

This makes all the more perplexing the School Board’s decision to avoid, at least for now, implementing the most simple and effective mitigation measure: masking.

And so once their new office nurse assistants identify students or staff who test positive the district can again implement isolation measures, which could include quarantining, if an outbreak occurs; we all know how academically disruptive it is to yank whole classes of students from their desks for 10 days.

To give them greater notice of when their schools are at risk, district officials are relying on more accessible COVID testing and Fond du Lac County Public Health data, which now shows transmission status in the county is “high.”

But that’s sort of like saying, “We’ll check your clothes to see if they’re wet, and only after we discover that one of your shirts is drenched will we ask at least some of the rest of you to come in out of the rain.”

Too little, too late.

Mitigation measures the district implemented last school year to keep the pandemic at bay proved fairly effective at keeping cases low (“If past is prelude, RASD ready to reopen,” Aug. 5, 2021).

But unlike this year, they included a mandatory mask requirement for most of the school year.

With new viral variants affecting youngsters at higher rates and more seriously than ever, one would think the School Board, guided by Superintendent Mary Whitrock, would have tread the more safe, prudent path.

Instead, knowing that the COVID storm on the horizon hasn’t hit Ripon yet, Whitrock and the six board members chose instead to loosen their grip on previous measures to keep students and staff safe.

Incredibly, their decision was made despite being told by their health advisor and local pediatrician Dr. Jeanne Lyke that with the more aggressive Delta strain, children now are being hospitalized and given supplemental oxygen at greater rates than ever.

School Board President Nicole Dash characterized the district’s new plan as “pretty good” for staff, noting it is sympathetic to those who believe, “I’ve done everything that I should be doing as a responsible parent person whose going to be taking care of these children. I don’t feel like I need to wear a mask anymore.”

Wrong.

Every “responsible parent person,” particularly those working with students younger than sixth graders, is not doing everything she or he should if their uncovered face and nose risk emitting viral particles.

The mistake Dash and Whitrock made at last week’s meeting is that both focussed at times with the feelings of adults rather than the health of children in their care.

Whitrock even trotted out the wearisome personal liberty argument, noting “in so many areas of life, that’s what we ask people to do. So that they can make the choice that is best for them.”

Sorry. That bird don’t fly when one’s choice jeopardizes another’s well being.

Six of the nine School Board members turned their backs on advice from medical experts — the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, the Wisconsin Department of Health.

All of those professionals collectively agree a storm is coming and it’s now time to raise the umbrella.

The Ripon Area School District is going to wait for the dark clouds to be overhead and only then may reexamine its decision after students and staff start getting wet — and sick.

— Tim Lyke

Editor’s note: Tim Lyke is brother to Ripon School Board member Andy Lyke and is brother-in-law to district medical advisor Dr. Jeanne Lyke.

(5) comments

Mark Alexander

It took all of 5 days for there to be 11 cases at Barlow and the middle school. If its spreading that quickly then it's obvious that the 1/2 hearted efforts and confusing mixed message put out by the school board and especially Whitrock are not enough. The weather has gotten cooler. Most kids don't mind wearing masks. The only time most do is when their loudmouth and insanely biased parents stay extremely vocal about their uninformed opinions.

Eric P Godfrey

A quote I read this evening that's highly relevant. It comes from an article in the Sept. 1 Huffington Post summarizing what scientists have learned about COVID-19 in the past month. Point #3 (of 5) in the article:

". . . an alarming new model published in August shows just how dire the situation could become if schools do not take precautions like requiring children to mask up. It suggests that 75% of all elementary school students will be infected with COVID-19 within the first three months of schools reopening if no preventive measures are taken.

However, universal masking would reduce infections by 26% to 78% (based on what else is happening in the community). And adding biweekly testing would reduce infections by another 50%, according to the model. "

Eric P Godfrey

Excellent commentary about an unfortunate decision. I have been watching the map with the red blob of high infection rates spread slowly but steadily north from southern states in recent weeks. Doctors are reporting that they are seeing increasing numbers of young people without co-morbidities enter the hospital in serious condition. In some parts of the country there are no beds left in pediatric ICU's. On many bases, opening schools without taking significant measures to protect children and the larger community is just asking for trouble. Thank you for bringing this ill-advised and dangerous school board decision to community attention. We like to respect people's feelings, but frankly the virus doesn't care what you think, and that's where our attention ought to be focused.

Dale Failor

Look at what's happening across the country. Ripon is risking the lives of our children. Wearing a mask is something we all might have to get use to for some time to come. Green Lake has the mask mandate for the kids there. They made the right choice. Ripon will be crying their eyes out when children start suffering. No sympathy here for those idiots.

Michael Shohoney

Great editorial, Tim. My question is why do we allow a political group to make a medical decision? Why isn't this decision in the hands of a committee comprised of medical professionals, instead of an elected group of people? We're not the only district guilty of this as this seems to be SOP. But I think changing this would be a much better path for decisions like this. We need a group that is unaffected by voter preference to make the right rather than the popular decision.

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