Huntley District 158 hears flood of support for making masks optional
About 100 people attended the Huntley Unit District 158 school board meeting Thursday in support of not requiring students to wear masks in classes for the upcoming academic year regardless of whether they've been vaccinated against COVID-19.
While no discussion of the plan for returning students to classes this fall was on the board's agenda, dozens of parents came to express their views on the matter, urging local officials to make wearing masks optional for all learners.
Some said they do not want their children vaccinated and expressed fears of their students facing "discrimination" or "segregation" at the hands of the district, and vaccinated children receiving preferential treatment.
Superintendent Scott Rowe assured those in attendance no decision on masking has been made, and so far, there is no intent to separate vaccinated students from the unvaccinated at school, or to educate either group any differently from the other at any grade level.
The district is awaiting clarifications from the Illinois State Board of Education on its guidance for schools, in particular, how learning in classes such as band and choir should take place.
"As soon as that decision is made, we will be discussing that in a public forum such as this. We still need information from (the ISBE) before we are prepared and ready to make a decision of that magnitude," Rowe said.
Still, the guidance released last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health "underscores the impact of vaccinations on our ability to return to normalcy in our classrooms," Rowe said in an update Monday to parents.
One seventh-grader at Marlowe Middle School told the school board she doesn't plan to get a vaccine.
"The children and families that are concerned should wear masks, but the families and children who aren't shouldn't be forced to," she said.
She was one of at least two students who spoke out against wearing masks for the upcoming year. During the public comment section, about half a dozen parents displayed large pictures of other elementary students showing them holding signs with quotes about why they dislike wearing masks in school.
Some of the written student messages mentioned how it is difficult to breathe in masks and they make the wearer feel dirty and hot.
One man in attendance, Val Petkov, wore a shirt that said "I identify as vaccinated," and others also indicated they were skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Now that the meetings have returned to a traditional manner, I expect school to also return in a traditional manner," resident Kari Cross told the board. " ... My kids will not bring or wear masks. They can send them home daily for all I care. ... Our kids didn't just make sacrifices this last year. You all sacrificed them."