Freedom of choice: An Arlington Heights mom's mission to make masks optional

  • Marianne Corcoran has led an effort to make mask wearing optional in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, where her children Audrey, 10, Elise, 7 and Ryan, 6, attend school.

    Marianne Corcoran has led an effort to make mask wearing optional in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, where her children Audrey, 10, Elise, 7 and Ryan, 6, attend school. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/22/2021 6:04 PM
Editor's note: For a different viewpoint on the issue from another parent, please read the companion piece to this story.
This story was revised to say the school board vote was 6-0, with one member absent.

For more than a year, Marianne Corcoran has helped lead the effort to reopen Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 schools.

But with all kids back at the end of last school year and the first day of the new year a month away, the mother of three focused her advocacy on making masks optional in classrooms. That included starting an online petition that tallied more than 500 signatures.

 

The school board last week voted 6-0, with one board member absent, to let parents decide whether to send their kids to school with or without masks. Days later, a counter petition began circulating online, with more than 800 signatures of those who want the board to rescind its decision.

"We have been heading up the reopen mission as well. What's behind that and the masks for us is one very simple thing, and that is choice," said Corcoran, a psychologist and Arlington Heights native. "We have felt voiceless and powerless for 16 months. And I believe last week (Superintendent) Dr. (Lori) Bein and the board made a decision that allows every single family to make a choice for themselves, and I could not agree more with their decision."

She and one of her children, Elise, spoke at the board meeting before the vote last Thursday. Elise, 7, an incoming third-grader, said it's uncomfortable wearing her mask all day, especially when it's hot in the classroom and the mask sticks to her face.

Corcoran said her 6-year-old son learned to read last year, but it was difficult because he couldn't see his teacher's mouth as she was pronouncing words.

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"They accepted that it was the rule, but looked forward to taking it off (at the end of the school day)," she said of her children. "They're now in several activities -- some inside, some outside -- and they don't wear masks. And the thought of going back to 6½ hours to wear one is very difficult."

The pandemic has caused much fear and anxiety in the community, she said, but acknowledged the levels are not the same for every parent.

Corcoran believes it shouldn't be up to the school board to make what she says are personal medical decisions.

"The more we tell people what they cannot do, I think the fear and anxiety increases," she said.

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