Glenview School District 34 votes to go mask-optional Feb. 28
Aligning with Gov. J.B. Pritzker's plan to lift indoor mask requirements on Feb. 28, on Tuesday the Glenview District 34 board of education voted to go mask-optional on that date.
The decision, approved 6-1, was framed by Pritzker's Feb. 9 announcement as well as by the sense that cases of the COVID Omicron variant were declining and less severe than the Delta variant, and that the time frame to go without masks "feels like it's measured in weeks, not months," board member Jim Baumstark said.
Board President Scott Nelson cautioned that policy would return to masked status should an appellate court overturn a temporary restraining order levied Feb. 4 against Pritzker's in-school mask mandate. Nelson believed the appellate court would decide on today.
District 34 was among 145 Illinois school districts named as defendants in the original suit, filed in October 2021. Districts maintain local control to implement their mitigation policy, which in District 34's case was voted upon last August, officials said.
The district also has three plaintiffs specifically named in the suit; those students were affected by the restraining order and have since not had to wear masks in school.
Nelson made his motion, which still "strongly recommends" students, staff members and visitors wear masks, after more than 1 hour, 20 minutes of board discussion on the topic.
The resolution continued mandatory masking on school buses and for students in days 6-10 after returning from a five-day exclusion due to a positive COVID test.
"But, if the TRO (temporary restraining order) is stayed or reversed ... by a higher court at any point, the district shall return to its prior mask-mandatory plan so long as that stay or reversal remains lawfully in place," Nelson said.
This all was surrounded by not one, but two periods reserved for public comment, one before the board vote and one after.
Some 400 people watched the remote meeting on Zoom, Nelson said. District 34's student enrollment is 4,364.
A high majority of the 27 people who spoke at the meeting, including two district students and several people who addressed Monday's meeting of Glenbrook High Schools District 225, favored a mask-optional approach.
One speaker called Feb. 28 an "arbitrary date." Others, particularly in light of Tuesday's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules decision against school mask mandates, questioned why District 34 couldn't go mask-optional "tomorrow."
Board members ranged from Vice President John Heggie's suggestion of going mask-optional in a week to Diane Stefani's hesitant preference for a full week after the Feb. 28 date, to serve as a buffer period to see results "after the state takes them off."
Stefani was the lone dissenter to the resolution. She noted the 57.4% student vaccination rate and stressed that the district had always followed guidance by local health authorities, which had remained unchanged.
"Our board is not a public health department, nor are we qualified to operate as one," she said.
The main consideration surrounding a date was how best to prepare for and serve the more than 80 District 34 students in Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), who have learning disabilities or medical conditions.
The board consulted Mary Geraghty, the district's assistant superintendent for Student Services. She said two-thirds of IEP students have conditions impacted by COVID such as diabetes, asthma, heart issues and other health factors.
"IEPs are individual decisions that need to be made ... in terms of looking at each individual child's needs and then trying to determine what needs to be done. When we look at what are our mitigation factors that are left once we remove masks, that's what we need to start balancing in terms of what can we put in place to insure that those students remain healthy and safe," Geraghty said.
"I know that some other school districts have asked the parents of the children in those classrooms, can you please have your child mask in this classroom because there is a child with a serious health condition.
"So it is complicated; it isn't a simple answer because all of their conditions are very different," Geraghty said.