Libertyville District 70 goes mask-optional, but other Lake County districts keep mandate
As of Tuesday morning, masks were optional for students, staff members and visitors at Libertyville Elementary District 70 schools and offices.
But most Lake County school districts not named in a lawsuit challenging masking appear to be sticking with COVID mitigations, said Mikkel Storaasli, president of the Lake County school superintendents group.
A Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order late Friday that some believe bars schools from enforcing the state's indoor mask requirement. It has stirred up confusion and confrontation in many districts.
Storaasli said given the "chaos" that includes staff walkouts and student fights over masks in some schools that went mask-optional Monday, school leaders appreciate time to prepare for moving away from mitigations.
That's also the position at Grayslake High School District 127, where Storaasli is superintendent.
"We've only had the weekend to contact our legal counsel to help digest a complex ruling and determine how that impacts our staff and community," he said in an email Tuesday morning.
Other districts sticking with masks include Mundelein Elementary District 75, Mundelein High School District 120, Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 and Woodland Elementary District 50.
At a special meeting Monday night, the District 70 school board voted 5-2 to modify its COVID-19 mitigation policy effective immediately. While masks are optional, quarantining of close contacts and weekly testing of unvaccinated employees will continue.
So will isolating students who are COVID-19 positive, reinforcing good hand hygiene practices, daily disinfection of surfaces and social distancing of 3 feet, or 6 feet when students are eating.
Masks continue to be required for all bus riders, per federal law. Remote learning will continue to be provided for students who are required to quarantine or self-isolate due to COVID-19.
Board members said revising mitigations to make masks optional was a step toward emerging from pandemic-related measures and impacts. The action was a middle ground between the status quo and eliminating more requirements.
The board was considering three options: continue with current mitigations, make masks optional but keep other mitigations, or make masks optional and discontinue quarantining and weekly testing.
"We have to have an end game, absolutely," board President Wendy Schilling said. Discontinuing all mitigations were "a little problematic for me," she added.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic in District 70, public comment was divided sharply.
Some cited the continuing and future negative impact on children and asked all mitigations be removed. Others wanted to stay the course and stick with recommendations of public health experts.
After more than two hours of public input -- including 97 voice messages played over 90 minutes -- Schilling and the other board members each explained their stances before the official vote.
Board member Travis McGhee, who was elected last year as part of a slate pushing for in-person learning, said making masks optional presented a "window of opportunity" for District 70.
"I've heard a lot of anecdotal suggestions for the better part of two years (that) we're in school because of masking. Prove it. I want to see the data that masking alone is keeping our kids in school," he said.
"We need to get back to normalcy. That's the North Star. That's the mission," he added. "How do we get there? When do we get there? That's all that matters. Let's figure it out."
Schilling, McGhee, Angela Balanag, Nanette Dahlke and Amie Krummick voted to make masks optional but continue other measures. Board members Brian Lawton and Jennifer Kahn voted against.
While it is expected some community members in District 70 will be happy with the decision and others won't, the district urged civility going forward.
"We must all continue to model civility, kindness, and respect on behalf of our greatest natural resource -- our children -- and expect the same from them during this time of transition," the district said in a statement.