Parents Voice Opinions
As the start of the upcoming school year gets closer, one thing on parents’ minds is whether their kids will need to wear masks at school. It was a highly contested topic at last night’s Naperville School District 203 board meeting. Fifteen people spoke publicly, and 46 pages of comments were submitted, with varying stances.
Allison Thompson has two daughters in elementary school. Her youngest is medically fragile. “I hate to break it to these parents but it really isn’t a choice individually. It is an all in situation,” said Thompson. “Your child being masked protects my child. My child being masked protects your child. Your child being unmasked takes away my choice, leaves my child unprotected, and takes away my child’s right to be educated in person.”
Another parent is asking the district to make masks optional, regardless of vaccination status. “It would be so great if our district could be a leader in the return to normalcy for our kids. It’s time to stop making our children wear masks to school when most are not wearing them to stores, restaurants, church, camp, or anywhere else this summer, said Jenna McKinnon. “They deserve to see the smiles on their friends faces, they deserve to breathe freely everywhere including their school.”
Decision Up to School Districts
Recently released guidelines from the CDC say anyone vaccinated doesn’t need to wear a mask. However the group recommends those unvaccinated, which includes all children under 12 years old, should be masked. The Illinois Department of Public Health has aligned its guidance with the CDC. But the guidance isn’t mandatory, which means local school districts can make their own decisions.
District 203 has not shared its plans for the 2021-2022 school year yet. Superintendent Dan Bridges said he and district administration are waiting on the Illinois State Board of Education and IDPH to update their FAQ document in the coming days, which he is hopeful will provide more clarity and answer some questions they have before presenting their final plan.
“We will not make or communicate any specific operational plans until we receive and interpret those updates,” said Bridges at last night’s meeting. “Because of changing conditions last year, you’ll recall we had a lot of changes to our plans which created a lot of frustration and confusion. Since we have this guidance a little bit earlier now and expected clarification coming from our public health agencies and state board of education, I anticipate we’ll have more time. We’ll look at those operational things and operational plans and communicate them as soon as we can.”
Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control at Edward Hospital said school districts should reach out to their local health departments for advice “on what to do as far as whether to wear a mask or not.” However, he has concerns.
“I would be concerned about students who are not vaccinated, especially if they’re going to a policy where they’re not requiring masks. Because that puts the students who are unvaccinated at risk to get infected by other students who are also unvaccinated in terms of transmitting that virus, that puts them at a much higher risk,” said Pinsky. “Now granted when the infection rate is low in the community that risk is lower, but that’s a moving target and that can change very quickly. So if there were one case for instance that got introduced into the school and you don’t have masking precautions, then you kind of set yourself up for an outbreak situation.”
But many parents are willing to accept that risk, with over 500 signing an independent survey submitted to the district in favor of making masks optional at District 203 when school returns. The author of the petition, Gracia Livie, asked the board to consider creating its own district-wide survey on the matter.
Pinsky encourages any students who are eligible to get vaccinated and agrees with the CDC and IDPH guidance – if a student is vaccinated, there is low transmission in the community, and the community has a high vaccination rate then it’s safe for them not to wear a mask at school.
Pinsky said school districts could also conduct a combination of surveillance testing and COVID-19 testing.
“You can also do regular testing periodically say twice a week or once a week to get an idea, if there’s any cases you can pick up before the transmission occurs,” said Pinsky.
It’s particularly important says Pinsky with a national upswing in the Delta variant which is more transmissible. He cited a recent increase in COVID-19 admissions at Edward, with eight people admitted last week, as compared to one to four in previous weeks.
“We’ve also seen some rare cases of breakthrough infections, people who are fully vaccinated who got infected and we think that those are probably also from the Delta variant,” said Pinsky.
As of now, the plan for District 203 is to return to full in-person instruction with lunch for all students, with some exceptions made for families who need to remain remote. They said over 90% of district staff is vaccinated.
Pfizer is also working on a vaccine for children under 12. Bridges said the DuPage County Health Department told him if an emergency authorization use does happen, the earliest it would be available would be sometime in September.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
photo courtesy: Naperville School District 203
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