Edwardsville Schools Parents Weigh In On COVID Mask Mandates For The New School Year
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
As summer vacation begins to wind down, parents in the metro-east are eager to hear what school will look like in the fall. Last year, COVID mitigations saw the vast majority of kids masked and taking at least part of their course load remotely.
In Illinois, the expectation set by the Illinois State Board of Education is that students will attend school in-person full time; whether masks will be required is less clear.
Nearly 50 people attended the Edwardsville CUSD 7 school board meeting Monday night to show their support for either side of the masking debate.
While the six speakers to address the board were split evenly on masking, much of the room was filled with people opposed to mask mandates. Many were parents of Edwardsville 7 students, but others were homeschooling their children or from other Madison County districts.
Speak for Students, a group that originated in Triad CUSD 5, has helped organize public showings at school board meetings, which includes going to board meetings in Madison County that might be outside one’s school district.
There was no agenda item Monday night related to masks. In his first board meeting heading the district, Superintendent Patrick Shelton said the district was forming a task force to create the return to learn plan that will be shared Aug. 4.
Board of education members, parents and school staff comprise the task force, which will look at local COVID data and speak with a panel of medical experts before deciding how to layer mitigation strategies in the fall.
The latest federal guidance, which was adopted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, offers school districts far more local control than last fall, while still stressing the importance of layering mitigation efforts, which include masking, social distancing, testing, vaccination and increased sanitization.
The CDC holds that fully-vaccinated individuals generally don’t need to wear a mask in most situations, but those who are not vaccinated — including the vast majority of elementary-aged students who are too young to be eligible — should continue to mask indoors.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in schools, regardless of vaccine status.
Derek Brandt, the father of two Edwardsville 7 students, told the board that neither he nor his children liked wearing masks, but that the school district had to do whatever it could to keep kids in schools.
“We have a higher obligation than what our comfort is or what our kids want to do,” he said.
Beth White, another Edwardsville 7 parent, said she homeschooled her two daughters last year, and that she was concerned about kids missing out on communicating with their peers, whether it’s sharing a joke or giving a reassuring smile.
“All of that is not unimportant,” she said. “That’s how we live.”
Madison County, where Edwardsville 7 is located, is one of 13 counties in Illinois that has warning signs of increased COVID-19 risk, according to the latest data from IDPH. Forty-three percent of the county’s population is fully vaccinated.
While there has been an increase in cases, IDPH did not report a concerning increase in emergency room visits or ICU bed availability within the county.
Megan Valley is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.