Parents ask board to consider optional mask-wearing in Winnetka schools but officials say their ‘hands are tied’
A petition to make wearing masks optional in Winnetka Public Schools garnered more than 230 signatures in four days. But district officials reiterated that there is “no wiggle room” in removing the mask mandate this school year.
School Board President Dawn Livingston opened the board’s May meeting with an address to the community, stating that the mask mandate is not going to be removed before the end of the school year, which is next week.
“We recognize as a board that this is less than ideal,” she said. “We’re all parents too. We know that it’s difficult to wear masks when you’re sitting at school all day when it’s hot, when our buildings aren’t all air-conditioned.
“It’s not ideal and we know that. .. But we are not able to make a different call than the Illinois State Board of Education has made.”
Livingston later said that the district “just legally can’t” make a change this year.
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The petition, started by District 36 parent Kristen Hagan, argues that mask wearing in District 36 schools should be optional following a mid-May executive order from Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker that scaled back face-covering requirements throughout the state for vaccinated individuals.
But a mask mandate repeal from D36 is not allowable, officials said, because of currently-in-place guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois and Cook County health departments.
That guidance says that schools should continue to use prevention mitigation measures — such as social distancing and mask wearing — throughout the remainder of the school year.
While the outlook for mask wearing during the remaining few school days left in the 2020-21 year will not change, the fall is a different story. School officials “are hopeful that there will not be a mask issue that we will have to contend with in the fall.”
“Right now, our hands are tied. We hope that will not be the case in the fall and we are anticipating a normal school year,” Livingston said. “We are hopeful that there will not be a mask issue that we will have to contend with in the fall. But we are going to take a look at that and monitor this carefully over the summer and we’re very hopeful that we’ll be in a different place. Our attorney believes we’ll be in a different place.”
Several parents still addressed the board on the matter during the public-comment portion of the meeting.
Molly Vanderlaan said the district should be leaders in the area and that “it is not acceptable for our kids to be in masks any longer.”
Kristen Hagan called the optional mask policy a “small but critical” change.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.