Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 makes masks optional for fall
Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 will not require students to wear masks for the upcoming school year, except while on buses, a move other districts across McHenry County also have made.
"We will be encouraging people to wear a mask if not vaccinated; however, I want our focus to be on teaching and learning and building relationships with students and families," Superintendent Kathy Hinz said in a note attached to Monday's meeting agenda.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education adopted new guidance from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention regarding schools reopening in the fall.
Under this guidance, masks should be worn indoors by those 2 years old and older who are not fully vaccinated, though not outdoors. Social distancing of at least three feet of physical distance between students in classrooms also is recommended.
"With masks, we're going to support the guidelines that they should be worn," Hinz said. "We're going to have signage at our buildings telling people that anyone who's not vaccinated should be wearing a mask."
No one will be prohibited from wearing a mask or asked to take one off, Hinz said. Likewise, the district will not require students to wear masks when walking through school doors, with the exception of buses.
Regardless of whether families decide to have their children wear masks, Hinz said there will be no tolerance for bullying those who make either decision.
During a packed District 47 school board meeting Monday night where President Rob Fetzner had to repeatedly remind the crowd to quiet down amid boos and cheers during public comment, families on both sides of the mask mandate voiced opinions on the district's decision.
While some implored the district to make masks a requirement for the sake of their immunocompromised children, others said they were concerned about the negative social and emotional impacts wearing masks would have on children.
Stephanie Macro, asking the board during public comment to make masks required, said she understands mask-wearing is a "volatile issue."
"You will not make everyone happy," Macro said. "But if you see these situations, you must put parents and public opinion aside. Your decision on this issue must be based solely on solid science, medical expert and public health recommendations."
Without a mask requirement, Macro said, it is only a matter of time before a child becomes seriously affected by COVID-19.
However, some speakers, such as Cindy Johnson, claimed masks were an example of government overreach.
"We're all being used as pawns by corrupt politicians, working on their agenda," Johnson said. "Although it may be difficult, it's your duty to be bold leaders and stand up to the tyranny that is in front of all of us."
She said her grandchildren, who attend District 47 schools, were not happy last year wearing masks in school.
Rebecca Helm, another speaker, said the potential for negative effects of mask-wearing on children's mental and emotional well-being, at a critical time for their emotional and social development, is something the board should keep in mind.
"It is very difficult for them to communicate and learn (in masks)," Helm said. "If a child is mentally, emotionally, socially stressed, it's going to be very difficult for them to work."
A few speakers who opposed masks in schools questioned how severe COVID-19 is in school-aged populations, saying children are not as adversely affected by the virus as adults are.
Kids ages 5 to 11 averaged 1,056 new COVID-19 cases per week from June 2020 through June 2021, and kids ages 12 to 17 averaged 1,587 new cases per week during the same time period, according to IDPH data.
Deaths for the 20 and younger population remain the lowest of any age group in the state, with a total of 20 statewide for the entire pandemic as of July 13.
This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its own recommendations to say all children should wear masks in school this fall, even if they're vaccinated.
A couple pediatricians at the meeting recounted seeing their own school-age patients endure long-term complications from COVID-19.
"Unfortunately, COVID-19 hasn't gone away. Those that are not immunized are susceptible to it, and we know that children that are under 12 are not eligible to receive a vaccine. So all of those children are susceptible to COVID-19," Crystal Lake pediatrician Lisa Messinger said.
In Messinger's office, she's seen long-haul COVID-19 patients who are chronically short of breath and who have had fatigue for months.
"Hundreds have died this past year. Thousands have been hospitalized," Messinger said. "I would like to see in-person school continue as well, with as minimal disruption as possible. This means that we've got to use all of our tools in our tool kit to prevent exposure and the spread of COVID-19 for our kids. We have many kids in the school district that have high-risk conditions, so the recommendations are clear."