Pekin Public Schools District 108 approves return to school plan, masks will be required

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PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — School officials in Pekin are answering the big mask question that many parents have been concerned about for the last few weeks.

During Monday night’s school board meeting, Pekin Public Schools District #108 leaders approved a “Safe Return to In-Person Instruction” plan. One of the results — masks are required for students and staff on buses and in the buildings.

School board members voted to approve the plan, which follows the Illinois Department of Public Health’s guidance on universal masking in schools as the “more transmissible” Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to spread globally.

Superintendent Bill Link said, aside from the safety aspect, all public school districts are finding themselves in a situation where they have to comply with mandates from the State Board of Education.

“Our first concern and foremost is for the safety of our students,” Link said. “In this situation, we really don’t have a choice in how we handle it. If the situation was different, we would probably be looking at a plan in which we can adjust based on metrics.”

Before the board meeting even started, some parents and their children came out around 6:15 p.m. in front of Washington Intermediate School where the board meeting was held, to protest universal masking.

Many of the signs read “Unmask Our Kids” with some parents saying it’s in the best interest of their children to go without face coverings.

During the meeting, one of the parents in the district addressed the board during the public comment portion and spoke about how masking isn’t feasible for her child with autism.

“He has missed more than a year of in-person learning due to mask mandates and therefore missed out on 18 months of opportunities to gain social skills that are so important for children, all children, especially those with autism,” she said. “Not only does my child have sensory processing disorder that makes wearing masks impossible, but masking all of the other students makes it even harder for children like my son to gain the ability to read faces and socialize.”

Dr. Link said as much as this is a sensitive topic, the matter is pretty much out of their hands.

“We understand that this is an emotional issue and given a choice none of us would want to wear a mask nor would we want our children to wear a mask,” Link said. “It’s a situation in which we have to follow guidance that’s provided to us by trained health officials, and it’s part of our responsibility to ensure people are safe.”

He said not complying with the mandate could result in the Illinois State Board of Education taking sanctions against school districts, which in turn affect the district’s accreditation, recognition, and state funding.

“Depending on if it’s a high school or a junior high school, it would have an effect on extracurricular activities and sports,” Link said. “In the case of a high school, it would not allow accreditation for courses taken for graduation and therefore could cause problems with college entrance.

“Overall, for all districts, it would have an effect potentially on funds received from the Illinois State Board of Education,” Link said.

He said the action the board took also allows for them to alter the district’s plans depending on the current conditions in the district, the community, the region, and the county.

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