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Belleville high school districts change indoor mask policy, effective immediately

Belleville West high school students arrive for the first day of school.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville West high school students arrive for the first day of school.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Belleville Township High School 201 will be mask optional beginning Tuesday.

In his recommendation to the school board written prior to its meeting Monday, Superintendent Brian Mentzer followed the reasoning cited by other Illinois school districts to end their mask requirements.

First, Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of about 700 students named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit over two COVID-19 school mitigations: masking requirements and the quarantine of students who were flagged as close contacts, but don’t have symptoms or a positive test. Belleville 201 is not involved in the lawsuit.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order over the summer that required mask mandates in schools. He has asked for an appeal of Grischow’s order, but the Fourth District Appellate Court has not yet issued an opinion. Mentzer said that there wasn’t a clear timeline for how the appellate court would handle the case.

Second, Mentzer noted Pritzker’s “untimely” announcement on Wednesday. The governor announced that the indoor mask mandate for most public locations, but not schools, would end Feb. 28. He then said that the mask mandate in schools might be revisited in a few weeks, but did not give a more specific timeline.

Third, Mentzer said that while the number of COVID cases were not at a low point within the district, they were continuing to trend downward.

The board unanimously approved Mentzer’s recommendation to end the mask mandate without any public discussion.

Before public comment, both Mentzer and board President Marvin Lampkin told the 30 people attending the meeting that the board would be voting on a mask policy. Of the 13 people who spoke, nearly all were opposed to the mandate.

Conrad Dahm, a senior at Belleville East High School, was the only student to speak at public comment.

“This district should not open the Pandora’s box of removing masks,” he said. Should the district need to return to requiring masks, either because of rising cases or the appellate court’s ruling, Dahm said it would be extremely difficult.

Following the vote, Dahm said he thought the school board should reconsider the policy at the next board meeting. He said he and some of his friends would be working on a new mask policy to present to the school board at its next meeting.

More Metro East school districts are beginning to lift their mask mandates. Collinsville School District, which has plaintiffs in the court case, also voted Monday night to switch to a mask optional policy.

O’Fallon High School and Freeburg High School have also voted to go mask-optional.

Megan Valley is a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Megan Valley covers education at the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio. She is also a Report for America corps member.

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