Some school districts changing policies on mask use

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(The Center Square) – Some Illinois school districts that decided to make mask use optional this fall could be changing course.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that people wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status, and now some school districts are following suit.

Several districts will hold meetings in the coming days to reevaluate their position.

Naperville District 203 voted this week to require masks for students and staff, something that isn’t sitting well with Julianna Russo, a junior who voiced her displeasure to the school board.

“You don’t hear the stories, and you don’t feel how disconnected and lonely it is to go to school with a mask on,” Russo said. “You don’t feel how hard it is to sit in class with a mask on six feet away from your closest classmate. You don’t know what it’s like to sit on the floor and cry after school because of how lonely it is to be there.”

As for making masks in schools mandatory, some superintendents say it is a fluid situation. Daniel Booth, superintendent of Carbondale District 95, said in a letter that if positivity rates continue to rise, district officials will pivot and require masks to start the school year.

Masks use continues to be optional in Effingham Unit 40 schools, but the district recommends masks for those who are not vaccinated.

McLean County’s largest school district reversed course after an earlier decision and will require students to wear masks to start the school year. Normal Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle said refusing to wear a mask would be considered insubordination, and any student refusing to do so could be suspended from school or banned from sporting events.

The Springfield District 186 school board voted to approve a mask mandate. District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill said the district will take a different approach. 

“I think the biggest, important piece is a proactive approach, telling them why we need to have the masks right now so we can be in school full-time,” Gill said.

Mask mandates have become a political flashpoint across the country. Two school districts in Florida that had mandated masks for students are reversing course after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order barring such mandates.

“In my last 28 years of education, this has been one of the most divisive things we have had to deal with and it isn’t something that is easy to deal with,” Gill said.

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