Springfield, IL school board will discuss mask policy for students
Springfield School District 186 board of education members are considering a draft version of a Return to Learn plan that would require pre-kindergarten, elementary and middle school students who cannot receive COVID-19 vaccinations to wear face masks indoors throughout the school day.
Middle school and high school students who have not been vaccinated would also be required to wear masks while those students 12 and over who have been vaccinated would not have to wear a mask.
Several board members who made comments at Monday’s meeting preferred that path, shunning the idea of a “mask optional” model.
Ball-Chatham and Taylorville are among school districts that are going “mask optional.”
Riverton schools planned to vote on the issue Monday.
Earlier in July, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) followed the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in stating that masks “should be worn” indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It was also adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
The District 186 board is expected to vote on the matter at its Aug. 2 meeting.
Most schools in the district begin classes Aug. 23 while Graham and Southern View elementary schools, which are on a balanced calendar, begin Wednesday.
The draft was hammered out by Superintendent Jennifer Gill and her cabinet members, the school board and representatives of the Springfield Education Association, which represents most of the district’s teachers.
Board member Micah Miller said he would support a policy that required masks for those students who are unvaccinated or unwilling to share their vaccination status. For those who are vaccinated, Miller said he would be fine with them not wearing a mask, said Miller.
“I’m pleased to see the district is not using a ‘mask optional’ approach,” Miller added. “I’m fine with the guidance. I still have some concerns about how this will be applied equitably throughout the schools and what punishment would be non-compliance.
“I’m also concerned about spending time enforcing who should and shouldn’t be wearing a mask when we could be teaching.”
The plan, said board member Buffy Lael-Wolf, is livable for everybody.
“I’m happy to see us relying on the experts of medicine in our community and in our state, as well as working in conjunction with the SEA,” Lael-Wolf said. “I think that’s paramount to making this work.”
Board member Mike Zimmers said while he would go with the proposed plan, “this could all change a month before school. This is a plan but subject to change at any point.”
Miller agreed, adding that there wasn’t “a blanket response” for every community.
“Your vaccination rate is going to be wildly different from one community to another,” he said. “You’re looking for input from your local health department. You’re trying to watch hospitalizations. It’s multi-faceted.”
The region, Miller said, isn’t out of the woods yet. The positivity rate in Sangamon County has gone up over 5% and in one recent week, numbers tripled locally.
“We’re still very much in the middle of a pandemic and we need to do what we can do to protect everybody’s health and safety,” Miller said.
Board member Sarah Blissett admitted she had visions of March 2020 when schools across the state were forced into remote learning because of COVID-19.
“I think that’s what we’re going to get back to, not that I want that,” said Blissett, reached earlier Monday. “I could see it with this new Delta variant. Hopefully, that’s not what needs to happen and things can get under control, but as a parent I’m definitely following it and hoping for the best.”
Miller said he was “far more optimistic at this time than last year. At this time last year, we were all waiting for a vaccine. Fast forward a year, we’ve got one. There are some similarities that I see to last year, in the way our rate has started to increase after July 4. That’s happening once again, so a lot of us are keenly aware that this could just compound itself.”
Board president Anthony Mares called the plan “a very positive step going forward though I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more movement between now and Aug. 23 when school starts.”
In the public comment, Katharine Eastvold said that minus a universal mask mandate and minus a remote learning option, any student or staff member who does not provide proof of vaccination should mask up in school buildings and that requirement “must be strictly enforced.”
Eastvold, a former school board candidate who has children in district schools, said the CDC’s masking guidelines intended to allow only vaccinated people to go maskless have “in practice become an exercise in the honor system because there is no longer a requirement for anyone to wear a mask in most settings.
“With metrics headed in the wrong direction, now is not the time to take a chance with the honor system.”
Kimberly Smoot, a family and consumer sciences and AVID teacher at Springfield High School, wanted to know enforcement procedures.
“Am I going to be holding on to (students’) medical records? I need to know if they’re supposed to wear their mask or they’re not supposed to wear their mask,” Smoot said.
Nicole Moody, who was standing in for Gill Monday, said there will be a remote learning option for students who don’t have the opportunity to get vaccinated or have other extenuating circumstances where they can’t return to the classroom.
“We really would have to look at (those) on a case-by-case basis,” said Moody, the assistant superintendent of teaching, learning and school culture.
Moody said vaccination clinics would be offered by the district for student before the start of the school year and as the year progresses.
A District 186 spokeswoman said a recording of the board’s June 21 meeting was briefly pulled from YouTube because of comments made by a public speaker.
The move was related to comments made by Ryan Jugan, a fourth and fifth grade math teacher at Sandburg Elementary, said Bree Hankins.
Jugan also spoke at Monday’s meeting during the public comment section.
Hankins said the district received notice that the video violated YouTube’s “content guidelines,” so it was removed in its entirety.
“We appealed (the decision), they denied the appeal and so we had to edit (out)..the comment portion as well a portion where (Jugan) interjected in another part of the meeting,” Hankins said.
She said YouTube didn’t specifically point out the comments that flagged it, but the video was put back on YouTube.
The audience watching Monday’s meeting on YouTube couldn’t watch the public comments in real time. They were advised to switch over to cable channel 22 to see that portion of the meeting.
Hankins said it was the district’s first violation of YouTube policy.
This story will be updated.
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected], twitter.com/@StevenSpearie