Residents emphasize parental choice on mask-wearing at District 225 meeting
The approximately 40 people who showed up to Monday's Glenbrook High Schools District 225 board meeting was by far the most since the COVID-19 pandemic denied such gatherings.
Board President Bruce Doughty addressed the visitors straightaway.
"We're here really to learn what you have to say," he said. "As always, on all topics, we want to hear from you and your various thoughts and opinions."
He heard it. The good, the bad and the ugly.
The bulk of the crowd had organized to protest the possibility of students wearing masks to start the school year on Aug. 18.
Though the pertinent agenda topic was "Preparing for the 2021-22 School Year," decisions on masks and other protocol will be finalized at the Aug. 9 board meeting at the district office in Glenview, 3801 W. Lake Ave.
Doughty, fellow board members and Superintendent Charles Johns received plenty of advice.
The citizens' theme was mainly one of parental choice, though "the arrogance of doctors and scientists" also was broached and, as Doughty later noted in agreement with several speakers, "The mental health side ...(is) a real set of facts."
"There was a feeling in the air because nobody could express emotion (wearing masks in 2020-21)," said a woman who described herself as a 25-year school nurse and Glenbrook North parent.
"Nobody could smile, nobody could frown. Kids that were nonverbal couldn't let the people around them know what they were thinking. And as a result they ended up in the nurse's office, where I would let them remove their mask because I'm vaccinated, and I would speak to them without their masks on. Within 10 seconds of having their mask off, I had a different child in front of me," she said.
"I am just urging you to remember that there are lots of numbers out there, there are statistics and they're changing constantly. But what is not changing is how this affects our kids, and kids of all ages."
Eight people, several of whom commended the board for being "pioneers" in getting students back into school last term, spoke for a total of about 21 minutes.
One, concerned how masks could cause "segregation and division in an already very divided community," said 800 people had signed a petition to make masks optional.
That opinion was shared by a woman who said she'd been a social worker since 1994. If a student wears a mask, it's believed they're not vaccinated, she said, "and thus ostracized."
A home health care director pointed out that 90% of Northbrook residents have received at least one vaccination shot, with Glenview's rate at 88.7%.
"It only goes to tell us that our community is vastly protected and can be trusted to do the right thing," she said.
Public comments finished, Associate Superintendent R.J. Gravel dug into the presentation, framed by Johns as "a year of normalcy" with students in school daily from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., co-curriculars intact.
After a smooth start, Gravel's presentation became haltingly delivered -- any mention of mask use, which the district based on guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health -- triggered responses from head-shaking to loud, mass complaint. Nobody in the audience spoke in favor of requiring masks.
Designating cafeteria tables with limited seating for unvaccinated students did perhaps reflect that prior speaker's fear of "segregation and division."
Amid a barrage of commentary, Doughty cautioned that this was not the public portion of the meeting. That had little effect.
"Where's the freedom?" someone shouted.
Sections of the preliminary plan concerning the CDC-ordered, mandatory wearing of masks on school buses drew vocal opposition, as did a voluntary survey that would ask whether students had been vaccinated.
By now allowing people to speak freely, Doughty told a person, who asked why there was no formal plan on Monday, that information from health agencies continues to evolve.
After Gravel finished his presentation, board member Skip Shein, a former three-term District 225 president, calmly and quietly clarified that the district indeed was legally bound to adhere to Cook County and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines.
And somewhere in there, during a contested point about students being quarantined last school year, appeared a rare plot of common ground.
"If you don't feel well, stay home," one guest said.
"That is absolutely right," Johns answered. "The point in all of this is we need everyone to work together."