The Unit 5 school board voted Wednesday night, January 6, to require all students, teachers and other staff to wear face masks in schools at the beginning of the school year to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Superintendent Kristen Weikle said the district will reevaluate the request on September 21, which is two weeks after students return from the Labor Day break.

She said that the date was on purpose. Throughout the pandemic, the holidays have provided a greater opportunity for COVID-19 cases to spike as families travel and socialize outside of their usual frameworks.

The meeting at Normal Community West High School drew about 40 people. Nearly half wear masks and half don’t, a sign of how clearly the Bloomington-Normal area is divided on the issue of mask wearing and the more stringent measures implemented throughout. The pandemic has hampered personal and business activities.

“There has been a lot of thought and consideration. I’m sure some of the board members have had sleepless nights. I know I have too. None of us want to wear a mask. I got it. Whatever the recommendation, half of the population in our community will not be satisfied,” Weikle said.

The superintendent frames the decision as a “duty and duty” to accept expert guidance.

Mask-wearing is “recommended by the CDC, Illinois Department of Public Health, AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), McLean County Health Department, and local pediatricians,” Weikle said. first month of the school year and holiday season, mask requirements may be subject to change if data supports it.

“I will be everything for that. And for me, we would logically start with our high school students because they have the option to at least get vaccinated,” Weikle said.

She said if Unit 5 eased the mask requirement, it would be a “construction-level decision”.

The metrics the district will use include IDPH and McLean County Health Department (MCHD) data, subject to changes in federal guidance, Delta’s status as more contagious and other variations, and data. Data from similar school districts were selected as optional masks.

If those counties can function without large numbers of infections, Weikle said, it provides evidence Unit 5 can do so.

Health experts say that wearing masks reduces the risk of serious illness or death for students and their families. There’s also another kind of risk in the game, says Weikle.

“Our county and insurance risk management providers tell us the only incentive strategy is to require masks for all, based on updated CDC guidance; otherwise they cannot guarantee we will be covered. That was huge,” Weikle said. “I would advise the board badly if I said against the CDC when I knew our insurer was saying you could be at risk and not be covered. I don’t think that would be tax smart at all. “

Board member Jeremy DeHaai was the only one who voted “no”, saying that wearing a mask should be an individual or family choice. He called on the district to come up with specific metrics that lead to the end-of-mask requirement and to be transparent about those figures.

“Vaccines are hope for so many people. My son received it because he will be able to go to school in the fall and not wear a mask. “Where does it all end? There’s no end in sight and we have to give people hope.”

Lesson 5 will also feature a new voluntary program where students can be tested weekly, using a saliva-based PCR test developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The testing program, overseen by SHIELD Illinois, will release results within 24 hours. Participating students will not need to be quarantined if they are identified as a close contact.

That means a student can return to school within 24 hours if they take the test, Weikle previously said.

How public?

Public comment at Wednesday’s meeting addressed several issues: the public interest, individual liberties, the varying severity of COVID-19 among different age groups, the fact that Direct education is better for children’s learning, children’s feelings, and affecting families.

Erin Easter told her family’s story that encapsulates most of it. One of her three children went to a private school last year because it was face-to-face. She wore a mask all year and there were no COVID cases at that school, she said.

“In terms of academics, she thrives on consistency. Socially, she has near-normal interactions. She was the most normal person in our family this year because she went to school every day and saw her peers,” said Easter.

One of the other Easter children was part of an outbreak among 18 students at a Unit 5 school this spring, she said.

“My wife and I got it and while it wasn’t bad for my son it was very serious for him. With that scenario, I don’t want to go through that with our children again, and I think wearing a mask is the best way we can keep them safe in the current transmission environment.” Easter said.

Other commenters framed the masking issue in dramatic terms. Former Ordinary City Council candidate Karl Sila appears to be making a cover-up Holocaust reference.

“Back then, people were told to wear a piece of cloth to show solidarity. It was a wristband back then. Today it is a mask. In both cases, people say the people who wear clothes are good people and people who don’t wear clothes are bad people,” Sila said. “People in the 20th century say that can’t happen here. I’m sure that’s what you’re saying now. There is a 10-step process towards genocide. We don’t want to continue that march to step 10.”

All board members noted that it was an extremely difficult decision.

School Board President Amy Roser said this is not just the welfare of the students at risk, but the welfare of the community at large.

“It would be horrible if you brought home the virus that later affected your parents. It’s a really tough thing to live with and I’m not sure as a board member how I can live with that situation,” she said.

Roser said McLean County data from last week tells her this is not the time to go without a mask. She said the under-17 age group had the highest number of cases among the age groups. And she notes that the youngest part of the group (under 12) doesn’t have the option of getting vaccinated.

And despite divided and divided views over masks, Roser hopes everyone can move forward as a community.

“We will have to act together as a community to change this so we can get rid of these masks,” she said.

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