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Masks a must in the schools

Barring an extension of Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide public face mask mandate, the executive order he issued in early August will expire on Sept. 26. On that date, then, certain entities -- perhaps most notably, public schools -- will have to decide if they will implement their own local orders to continue the use of face coverings to slow/ prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, or if they will let individuals decide for themselves if they want to risk either catching or spreading the disease.

For schools, there shouldn’t be much to debate. After the coronavirus forced the sudden shut-down of all state schools in March and students and teachers largely struggled to maintain some semblance of normal education, it became quickly and abundantly clear that the best place for children is in their classrooms. And, like it or not, the best way forward for them to stay in those classrooms now that a new year has started is to take every feasible precaution. Face masks are an obvious prevention tool, so if you want your first-graders and junior highers and high-schoolers to stay in school, make sure they wear one.

As for the continuation of Gov. Evers’ overall public mask mandate, we say, why bother? Local business managers we’ve talked to in recent weeks peg public compliance at somewhere around 50 percent, which is likely somewhat higher than it was before the executive order, but not nearly as high as it should be.

Compliance will only decrease as complacency grows, and it’s probably not worth the political fall-out an extension will create to extend the order further. Everyone who is willing to wear a mask is already doing so, and no order from Madison -- especially one that few local authorities are willing to enforce -- is going to change that.

In schools, though, it’s different. No matter how much one may try to keep kids six feet apart, it isn’t going to work perfectly. And -- unless you’re willing to keep your kids at home until this passes -- school means required attendance. You can choose whether or not you’ll go most places, but if you want those kids to learn properly, they need to be on those buses and in those classrooms. Sending them there without a face covering during the COVID-19 pandemic is like sending them any other time without a measles vaccination. Most of us wouldn’t even consider that.

Schools may take some heat if they continue a face mask requirement after Sept. 26, but they really have no choice. If they don’t, they greatly increase the chances of an outbreak that would quickly shut them down, for who knows how long. They know -- and parents know -- that being in school is too important to take chances based on a political squabble over individual freedoms. Yes, you have a right to make your own choices, but so do all the other children in school have a right to attend a facility that’s not hazardous to their health.

Members of the TRG editorial Board include Publisher Kris O’Leary, Editor Dean Lesar, and Carol O’Leary.