RF School Board votes to make masks optional

Posted 3/1/22

RIVER FALLS – Upon recommendation from Superintendent Jamie Benson, the River Falls School Board unanimously voted Feb. 21 to make masks optional for district staff and students effective Monday, …

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RF School Board votes to make masks optional


RIVER FALLS – Upon recommendation from Superintendent Jamie Benson, the River Falls School Board unanimously voted Feb. 21 to make masks optional for district staff and students effective Monday, Feb. 28. The vote was almost an anti-climactic ending to almost two years of debate, passionate discussion and public comment at school board meetings.

“Thank you for your patience, resilience, care and understanding with all of our COVID-related decisions,” Benson said. “Many of us are anxious for next Monday to come, we’re anxious to have a change with the mask policy. We’re glad that we’re finally getting to the other side of COVID case numbers.”

Benson listed several reasons for his recommendation, including COVID case numbers declining after the recent Omicron variant spike. Other reasons were:

•People who want to be vaccinated or have their children vaccinated have had ample time to do so.

•Hospitalization capacity has improved.

•More evidence indicates Omicron is less severe than previous variants, test kits are widely available now, and medical treatments have advanced.

The school board’s intention has been to get to the point of making masks optional, Benson said, which has been communicated with parents. If people aren’t comfortable with masks being optional, they’ve been given time to transition to homeschooling or virtual school.

Parents are asked to remind their children to be respectful of classmates regarding their decision to mask or not.

“Everyone must respect individual decisions,” Benson said. “All who want to continue wearing masks on school grounds are encouraged to do so and to respect everyone’s right to make that personal decision.”

The district will continue to provide KN95 masks during school hours while supplies last. PK-5 students can request masks from their teachers, while grades 6-12 can find masks in the school offices.

Anyone with the following symptoms is asked to continue following guidance to stay home: Persistent cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting, diarrhea, fever over 100.4, sore throat or severe headache.

If a student or staff member tests positive, they can return to school with a doctor’s note, with a negative COVID test, or by following the 5+5 mask rule, which contains these steps:

•Isolate for a minimum of five days from the start of symptoms (the first day of symptoms is Day 0).

•After the five-day isolation period, being fever-free for 24 hours without aid of fever-reducing medications and symptom improvement, a person can return to school, but must wear a well-fitting mask around others for a minimum of five additional days.

As for household close contacts, unvaccinated people must follow the 5+5 guidance. Vaccinated individuals must wear a mask at school for 10 days.

One RFHS senior spoke during public comment, asking the board to continue to require masking. She cited COVID-related deaths at area senior living facilities and wanting to protect others as reasons the board should reconsider its decision. While the school board can’t mitigate what happens outside of school, transmission can be reduced in school if students wear masks, she said.

“I see people dying and it’s absolutely horrifying,” she said. “I just want to protect the people I care about.”

Wildcat Pride Award

The River Falls School Board awarded Greenwood Principal Nate Schurman and his staff the February Wildcat Pride Award in recognition of Greenwood’s designation as a 2022 State School of Character. Each year, Character.org certifies schools and districts at the state level that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development which has a positive effect on academic achievement, student behavior, and school climate.

Directly following the award, Meyer Middle School Principal Mark Chapin kicked off the Spotlight on Education presentation, which gave an overview of the district’s character education initiative.

“Often times when we get these recognitions as a state or national school of character or Promising Practice award, people think we have perfect kids and we don’t have perfect kids,” Chapin said.

Having perfect kids isn’t the point of character education. The program teaches students to be their best selves, to embody the nine positive character traits identified when the program began 12 years ago: Courage, cooperation, respect, citizenship, perseverance, responsibility, compassion, positive attitude, and honesty.

Each school performs different activities related to character education, such as family character nights, community service projects, buddy groups, and incorporating these skills into academic and career planning.

Over the years, the district has received numerous awards and recognitions for its character education implementation, which has become an integral part of the school community in River Falls.

“We paid very little for the results we have received,” Chapin said.


The school board unanimously approved the following personnel changes:

•Lynn Stubbe as full-time long-term substitute third grade teacher at Greenwood Elementary effective Feb. 17, 2022 through approximately June 3, 2022 (for Ashley Gorman).

•Temporary reassignment of Ashley Bingenheimer as interim principal at Rocky Branch Elementary effective Feb. 7, 2022 through April 1, 2022 for Charles Eaton.

•Hiring the following short-term, on-call substitute teachers: Olivia Campbell, Gina Holloway, Jordan Livingood, Chantel Mitchell, Brenda Randleman, Deborah Carlson, Kara Wellman, Carly Benton, Dakkota Mark, Stephanie Fleming, Scott Sutton and Kaitlyn Valencour.

•The resignation of full-time Meyer Middle School English/language arts teacher Nicholas Stenske effective at the end of the 2021-22 year.