Collinsville parents call for school district to drop mask mandate following court ruling
COLLINSVILLE — Mask mandates were not on the agenda, but dozens of parents and community members packed the Collinsville Community Unit School District 10 board meeting Monday evening to make clear how they felt about parental choice.
“There has to be some alternatives to what our mitigation strategies are,” Lisa Colon, a local real estate agent and facilitator for the school’s mentorship program, said while addressing the board. “I hope that by March 1, we’re moving forward and considering all of these things because I don’t think doing the same things we did for the last two years is gonna continue to serve our students, our parents or our teachers and staff.”
Many in attendance cited a Sangamon County judge’s ruling Friday that temporarily blocked a variety of COVID-19 mitigation measures, including mask, vaccine and testing mandates for over 170 Illinois schools. State Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration are appealing the decision.
Many Illinois districts are now encouraging masks, but not requiring them. That includes school districts like the Quincy Public Schools, the Columbia School District and the Triad Community Unit School District. Both the Collinsville and Edwardsville districts said in a letter to parents that they would continue to require masks, except for the handful of students whose families were plaintiffs in the case.
Beth Habermehl, the mother of a Collinsville High School freshman, pleaded to the board to continue doing what they could to keep children in school. She said her son lost his eighth-grade football season because of the pandemic.
“It was devastating. His entire who-he-is is wrapped around football. He lost it because COVID destroyed everything,” she said, advocating for trusting the district’s staff. “I just want to see our kids stay in school, whatever it takes to make that happen.”
Habermehl ended her comments while some in the crowd jeered “your time is up.” Another attendee yelled “follow the law!” Some in the crowd claimed the school board was not following the law, calling board members “criminals” and “child abusers.”
Ryan and Megan Cunningham, founders of the Troy, Illinois-based group Speak for Students hyped up the crowd before the start of the meeting, as dozens gathered in front of the building with signs advocating for the district to get rid of mandates.
“They’re making the kids in Collinsville here go to school with their masks on, even though there is a [temporary restraining order] ruling,” Ryan Cunningham said, in part, while livestreaming to social media. “Judge [Raylene] Grischow ruled that, you know, this is pure evil. That this is an evil mandate. The parents here tonight, they're here to make their voices heard.”
Megan Cunningham said she and her husband started the group so schools “value what we believe in as parents” and to start “fighting to have a voice back in the classroom for parents.”
School board president Gary Pecolla attempted to end public commentary multiple times and was met with the audience booing and yelling. At one point, two board members attempted to walk out of the room, but eventually sat back down at the table.
Pecolla and members of the board pushed forward a roll-call vote to move the meeting into closed session as members of the crowd continued yelling and refused to follow the board president’s requests to limit public commentary.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Kate Grumke contributed to this report.