Trustees approve WMS early release schedule, will not currently require students to wear masks outdoors

Photo by Crystal Apilado/Winters Express

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The Board of Trustees took action to approve an early release schedule for the middle school, and approved staff recommendation to not require students to wear masks outside at the Winters Joint Unified School District school board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 21.

Winters Middle School Principal Dawn Delorefice said the early dismissal schedule was created in alignment with the Friday dates already approved for Waggoner Elementary and Shirley Rominger Intermediate schools’ early release dates. The early release Friday minimum day bell schedule will be the same as the Wednesday minimum day bell schedule of 8:05 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.

The goal behind an early release is to give educators the opportunity and time to work through the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) process of collective inquiry and reflection of student data and staff collaboration to improve instruction, support, assessments, interventions and outcomes for students.

Delorefice said Winters JUSD would revisit the implementation and progress of the impact of the change in January 2022.

Trustee Joedy Michael questioned whether the move of having less school hours would really benefit middle school students. Trustee Candi Ochoa, who is a teacher in another school district, said what educators need most is more time.

President Carrie Green said over the years that she has been on the school board the common ask Trustees have heard from staff is for more time to prep and collaborate.

Trustees unanimously approved the schedule. The first early release Friday for WMS will be on Friday, Oct. 29.

To mask or not to mask
At the Oct. 7 school board meeting, Trustees engaged in a debate about whether or not students and staff should wear masks while outside. 

When originally proposed as an informational item at the Oct. 7 meeting, staff recommendation was to require students and staff to wear masks while outdoors. However, as of the Oct. 22 meeting, staff has changed the recommendation to not enforce that masks be worn outside.

Oscar Garcia, Interim Student Services Coordinator and Winters Middle School Assistant Principal, noted the decline in positive cases in the County and a week where no positive cases were reported within the school district as points to support the change of the recommendation.

Since the meeting, the Winters JUSD COVID Dashboard has reflected three positive student cases at Winters High School, and 89 identified student close contact cases across WHS, Waggoner Elementary and Shirley Rominger Intermediate schools for the month of October. There has also been one positive staff case reported at the Winters JUSD District Office, and five identified staff close contact cases between the District Office and WHS.

Trustee Kristin Trott said that as guideline change and number fluctuate, the school district’s main goal is to keep students in class. Trott noted that other forms and layers of protections (masks and vaccinations) needed to be utilized.

Green stood behind her original stance that the school district should not go above and beyond the County’s mandated recommendations.

“Until the county comes out and says we’re back to outdoor masking, then that is a bridge we will have to cross. I’m not a fan for imposing stricter guidance,” Green said.

Two public comment speakers spoke against outside masking.

Anthony Lebau made the point that masks were a deterrent for students in bilingual classes. He said his kindergartener needs to be able to see lip movements and to clearly hear sounds. He said in terms of masking outside, as someone who lives with asthma he felt it was important for children to be able to play and breathe freely as well as to be able to read other children’s facial expressions when playing outside.

Leslie Lucero said she wanted to speak out against mandating masks outside and that it was not the type of choice others should be making for children.

“It’s not up to you, it’s up to me,” she said.

Trustees unanimously agreed that for the time being, students and staff would not be required to wear masks while outdoors.

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