After lengthy debate, no final decision on District 220 mask policy
A crowded and five-hour Barrington Area Unit District 220 board meeting ended late Wednesday night with members unable to settle on a final policy for masks when students return to class next month.
Because the session was a special meeting, the board members could not vote on a policy had they agreed. That vote could come when the board meets again Aug. 10 -- 10 days before the first day of school.
"Well, I'm disappointed," board member Angela Wilcox said. "I was really hoping that we could come to some sort of situation to move forward. I think that we've seen is wishy-washy, and I know you're saying that you're looking for more information, but it doesn't feel like being leaders. It seems like kicking the can."
Board President Sandra Ficke-Bradford "respectfully" disagreed.
"We need to have the metrics, we need to know what they're going to be. We need to know when we're going to be moving masks on and off," she said.
There were 59 people signed up to comment during the meeting, which included an hour of listening to recorded messages on the divisive issue.
The board agreed earlier this month to make face masks optional in grades 6-12 and develop a plan to phase out an indoor mask requirement for students and staff in prekindergarten through fifth grade.
Superintendent Robert Hunt presented a proposal Wednesday that would make masks recommended, but not required, for the older students and implement phased approach for earlier grades. That approach would see students wearing masks when a social distance of three feet cannot be maintained. The district would then monitor local COVID-19 case data and make decisions based an that information.
Other proposed mitigation strategies include designated entrances, the use of hand sanitizer, three-foot social distancing and limited visitors in buildings. High-touch surfaces will be cleaned daily, and physical education will take place outdoors as much as possible.
The district will request the vaccination status of students and staff and will have testing available for those who are symptomatic. The SHIELD Illinois PCR screening test will be implemented, but parents can opt out.
Board member Erin Chan Ding questioned the decision to begin with optional masks.
"Why don't we start with masking in place and then lift that as health departments around us are more comfortable?" she said.
"That conversation really was established last week when the board said 'create a plan for a phased-out approach for masks,'" Hunt replied.
Board member Barry Altshuler was not present but had a prepared statement read. The six board members at the meeting were split 3-3 on the issue.
"I think we're giving (parents) a pretty good indication of how we're going to go here," board member Steve Wang said. "I think the decision is that we're not going to go with the proposal and we're going to start with masks on in the school. And I think parents should know that and plan for that accordingly."