DUNLAP, Ill. (WMBD) — Several parents left Wednesday night’s Dunlap School Board meeting feeling upset.
During the meeting, Superintendent Scott Dearman gave an updated presentation on the 2021-2022 return to school guidance. One of the topics in that presentation touched on the district’s masking policy.
The portion for masking in the guidance reads, “masks will be OPTIONAL for all staff and students, pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.” It also states “wearing of masks is proven to be an effective mitigation measure and all unvaccinated students and staff are encouraged to wear a mask.”
This is in light of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent guidance recommending all individuals two years old and older who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors.
Seven parents spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting, six against the district’s masking proposal and one in favor.
Those speaking against the proposal said they believed masking should be required, especially since many elementary-level students aren’t eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It is not fair to those who cannot be vaccinated yet that they have to be put at risk for those who refuse to wear a mask,” Annalee Huntington, a parent in the district, said. “I’m begging the board to require either a universal masking policy or at the very least to require a mask for everyone that cannot show proof of vaccination.”
“As a parent of this district, this district is doing the bare minimum to protect the welfare of my son’s health,” Chrissy Malson, another parent, said. “This pandemic is not over.”
“It would seem as though the policy was written in the interest of being within the minimum compliance of the requirements rather than prioritize the health and safety of the students and their families,” Phil Reardon, a third parent, said.
However, one parent at the meeting favored the optional choice and said he wanted to highlight the other side of the argument.
“At the end of the day, it’s got to be what’s best for the health of your child,” Josh Hoerr, another parent, said. “What’s best for my child is to not wear masks. It presents breathing problems, it builds up moisture in there, there have been studies of it causing bacterial pneumonia.”
At the end of the presentation, Superintendent Dearman said the proposal had been already been approved at a previous meeting and Wednesday’s presentation was meant to show what updates were made to the guidance, such as tier mitigation and possible changes to quarantining.
He said there were no changes to the masking portion, and it currently remains optional. Dearman insisted they are following the state’s health guidance, despite claims that they’re not.
“We are not passing on the IDPH recommendation, it is recommended that students wear masks and I believe that you should wear masks, especially if you’re not vaccinated,” Dearman said. “However, I also believe in the authority of our parents to make that decision and for me not to be the one to tell them that.”
“We are following the IDPH recommendation that masks are encouraged, but we’re just not going to require them,” Dearman said.
Dearman said masks are still required on the buses because it falls under public transportation.
Mike Wisdom, a board member, said he’s been hearing from families on both sides of the issue and the main thing on his mind when it comes to decision-making is what’s best for the students.
“We don’t do this for political or personal reasons, we’re doing what we think is best for the kids,” Wisdom said. “We are getting a lot of information on both sides of the issue, and the best we can do is make the best decision we can. We were right the last time.”
The parents hoping for universal masking left the meeting saying their concerns fell on deaf ears.
“We’re upset, we’re angry, we’re frustrated, exasperated that they’re not willing to listen to the medical advice provided by the CDC and the Illinois Department of Health, and the ISEB, and the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Huntington said. “They’re not listening to any of them who are all in agreement that masks should be worn by everyone regardless of vaccination status.”
She said she’s going to draft a petition, asking for parents to sign on, that will ask the district to implement a universal masking policy.
Board members said things are still a work in progress and they’ll continue working with the local health department and make adjustments if necessary.