District 203 superintendent defends shift on masks
During another school board meeting in which some Naperville Unit District 203 parents criticized and others supported officials for recent masking decisions, Superintendent Dan Bridges detailed the district's actions and mitigation plans moving forward.
Bridges cited several factors in making the decision last week to shift to a mask optional policy -- including uncertainty regarding a lawsuit brought against District 203 and more than 140 districts throughout the state over the mandate.
He also stressed the situation could change.
"As we have seen over the past few weeks, things can change and have changed rapidly," Bridges said. "Our goals have remained consistent throughout the pandemic. We must continue to be flexible in our planning in order to ensure our plans are responsive to the current situation."
In defending the shift to the mask-optional policy, Bridges noted the 77.1% vaccination rate in District 203 ZIP codes and the 90% rate among district staff.
He said DuPage County has the highest vaccination rate in Illinois among children aged 5 to 11, and the third-highest rate among children 12 to 17.
Bridges said for the first time since before Halloween, the district recently had a stretch of five straight days without a staff member testing positive for COVID-19. The policy of strongly recommending masks corresponds with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois Department of Public Health and DuPage County Health Department guidelines, he added.
While many of the parents at Tuesday's school board meeting agreed with the shift to a mask optional policy, some expressed concern about medically vulnerable students.
"To the unmasked teachers and administrators, tell them that purposefully adding to a child's distress or willfully ignoring a child's or family's medical needs is not OK," Erin Zimmer said. "At best, it is uncaring. At worst, it is a dereliction of duty."
Bridges touted district mitigation measures that include easily accessible testing and attempts to maintain three-to-six feet of distancing in classrooms. He said staff and students testing positive will continue to be excluded from school for five to 10 days.
He also said the masking policy could shift again if COVID-19 numbers spike or the health care system becomes overstrained. That did not sit well with many parents.
Parent Jenny George suggested the mask mandate had more to do with politics than with the health of students. She blamed the school board for the divisiveness that now exists in the community.
"All of this anger on both sides is due to the board's lack of transparency and refusal to engage with parents," she said.