, , ,

School Board Approves Mask Mandate For Fort Atkinson Schools After Teen Dies Of COVID-19

New Wisconsin Law Provides Some Protection Against Potential School Lawsuits Related To COVID-19

A student walks on the right side of a hallway to avoid contact with other students
A student walks on the right side of a hallway to avoid contact with other students at Wyandotte County High School on the first day of in-person learning at the school in Kansas City, Kan. Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The district was one of the last in the state to return to the classroom after going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Charlie Riedel/AP Photo

In a 4-1 vote, the Fort Atkinson School Board voted to implement a mask mandate for all students and staff following the death of a middle school student whose mother said the teen died after contracting COVID-19.

The Thursday meeting featured heated and tearful testimony from parents both for and against the mandate.

Jennifer Slack was among those begging the board to issue a mandate.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“Our kids need us, and they need your help. Please, we need a mask mandate, and we need it now,” said Slack, the parent of a kindergartner.

She pointed to the fact that her child is too young to be vaccinated as one of the reasons the mandate was needed.

Other parents said their children were afraid of catching COVID-19 and dying after losing the classmate, according to The Associated Press.

Cheryl Costa disagreed. She told the Fort Atkinson School Board they shouldn’t be “guilted” or “pressured” into making everyone wear masks because some are “scared.”

“Masking our healthy children isn’t the right way to go,” Costa told the board.

The mask mandate will remain in effect until the board’s next meeting Oct. 26.

Protecting Schools Against COVID-19 Liability

Schools across the country have general liability insurance in case a student is hurt while at school. But many states worried COVID-19 wouldn’t be covered under those guidelines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

So if a school opted not to institute a mask mandate or other COVID-19 precautions and students got sick, they could sue the school system.

But a new Wisconsin law provides some protection against potential lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said there haven’t been any claims of harm by schools that haven’t put pandemic mitigation measures in place.

But the law has exemptions. Immunity from liability doesn’t apply to reckless or intentional misconduct.

“The question is whether a school district’s failure to impose a mask mandate or take some other action would be deemed either reckless or intentional, given that COVID is a known risk and there are various guidelines in effect suggesting certain mitigation strategies,” said Rossmiller, whose organization advises schools to consult medical experts, legal counsel and insurance carriers when considering pandemic policies.

In January, the Republican-controlled state Legislature unveiled a plan that would give businesses, schools and governmental entities legal immunity if someone contracts COVID-19 on their premises, even if the entity isn’t following local, state or federal requirements to curb the spread of the virus. It was signed into law the following month by Gov. Tony Evers.