School boards plan special mask policy meetings tonight

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Many community members spoke against mask mandates at the Rockton School Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2022

Mask mandates could be removed (or not) in two local school districts after meetings at 7:00 p.m.  Monday night, Feb. 14, 2022. Both Rockton School District and Kinnikinnick School District have scheduled special meetings to discuss their COVID-19 mitigation and school opening plans, which include universal mask requirements. 

On August 4, 2021, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced masks would be required for students, teachers and staff at pre-kindergarten-12th grade schools. But a judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Feb. 4, 2022 and also voided the rule changes of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) that implemented Gov. Pritzker's executive orders, which forced schools to require masks.



At a Rockton School Board meeting last week, two board members, attorneys Scott Robinson and Stephen Harkess, said they believe the judge's temporary restraining order (TRO) does not directly affect their school district, since they were not named in the case. And since Rockton School District had approved its mask mandate before Gov. Pritzker issued his executive order, though they revised it afterwards, voiding the ISBE rules doesn't directly affect their district either. But the decision could provide a way to school districts to make their own decisions again. Rockton, for example, had always planned to drop their mask mandate after infection rates went down. But as in every local school district, some board members all along would have preferred masks to be optional.

The Kinnikinnick Fall Opening Plan required "Universal Masking regardless of vaccine status per Executive Order 2021-18 (8/4/2021)" but even before that, the school district's rules were based on CDC guidance.

Rockton School District's amended School Opening Plan says:

The following will go into effect when the Governor's order expires.
■ Universal Masking first 22 school days
■ Universal Masking required when new cases within the county are above
100 per 100K
■ Universal Masking required if the district has 1% or higher positivity rate
within Rockton schools for two consecutive weeks.
■ Universal Masking required when the number of quarantines substantially
disrupts the educational environment

As it turned out, Rockton's rules didn't go into effect because the Governor issued his order. But now that his order does not apply to schools, board members believe Rockton School District can legally drop its mask rules if they want. Several said they had voted to require masks in August when the COVID threat was more serious, before the milder but more infectious Omicron variant became dominant. Because of Omicron, new cases rose and hospitalizations increased, but this time, individual students were in less danger. Superintendent Glenn Terry said that 1% positivity means 16 students with COVID, and he expected less than that for the current week.

At the Kinnikinnick school board meeting last week, Superintendent Keli Freedlund said that as far as they had been told by their attorneys, the Governor's mask mandate was still in effect for their school district. Like the Rockton school board, Kinnikinnick board members and administrators said they were primarily concerned about the safety of students. Several parents at the meeting asked for masks to be made optional, though they praised the schools.

As always, school board meetings are open to the public and the public is invited to comment at the beginning of the meetings. However, school board members say that, except for a couple of exceptions, they can hardly remember seeing citizens at school board meetings. Several Rockton board members agreed that it was hard to listen to angry accusations from parents, but "it's not a bad thing, it's a good thing" that the parents came. More than 100 citizens, though not all local, came to the Rockton school board to register their disapproval, but only six stayed for the rest of the meeting as the board discussed what to do.

One reason for the large attendance at the recent Rockton School District meeting was the report that unmasked children were being segregated and isolated, with students and parents alleging that teachers were not treating them fairly. The board did not address that report publicly, but at the end of the meeting, they held an executive session, not open to the public, where they could discuss "appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees (5 ILCS 120/2(c)(1) and student discipline (5 ILCS 120/2(c)(9)."


More about local school mask mandates

Appeals court denies Governor Pritzker his school mask mandate

Mask-optional policy at Hononegah extends to teachers and staff

Legislative panel suspends school COVID mitigations, though Rockton and Roscoe were ahead of them

Both Rockton and Kinnikinnick vote to make masks optional

School boards plan special mask policy meetings tonight

Kinnikinnick Board calls Feb. 14 meeting to approve COVID plan

Rockton School Board will discuss changing mask plans on Monday night

Gov. Pritzker expects indoor mask mandates to end Feb. 28, but not for schools

Editorial: Why every school district in Illinois didn't drop their mask mandates

Schools in Roscoe and Rockton handle judge's mask ruling in very different ways

Hononegah: Masks highly recommended but no longer required

Judge limits mask mandate at Hononegah, at least temporarily

Judge reconsiders mask mandates, including Hononegah and Prairie Hill

Hononegah will continue to require masks, pending judge's ruling

Parents voice opinions on wearing of masks at Hononegah Community High School Board meeting

Hononegah begins school year, all together, three feet apart

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