SYCAMORE – A new districtwide rule in Sycamore schools which requires visitors to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter school buildings is cause for concern, some parents say.
However, school officials say the goal of the new rule is to unburden already taxed staff monitoring virus activity.
The rule requires visitors and volunteers in school buildings to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter beyond the main office.
The rule states that the school district is limiting the number of visitors and volunteers to the building. All visitors who enter the building past the office during the school day are required to be vaccinated. Only volunteers who are vaccinated will be allowed at school activities. Visitors and volunteers will have to submit proof of their vaccination status to the office before entering the building or volunteering at the event.
Lisa Schau – one of four parents who spoke against the rule during the Sycamore Board of Education meeting – pushed against the new rule. She argued that parents who are fully vaccinated could still be at risk for contracting the virus.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the risk of contracting COVID-19 after full vaccination remains low.
“You have to present a card in order to come in, I mean, you have to present your papers in order to help your child, volunteer and spend time with them,” she said. “It’s just so sad. … [A parent] who maybe chooses not to [receive the vaccine] or actually even doesn’t disclose their status, they are no longer welcome to come into the building to work with their children. It is true discrimination.”
After the school board meeting, Superintendent Steve Wilder said that the visitor and volunteer policy is a recent decision.
“I can certainly understand the frustration, but it is truly about the workload in tracking negative test results for volunteers on a weekly basis,” Wilder said. “Our priority is to focus on the students. This is the last thing we want to do, and it’s not about trust. It’s about the extra burden of monitoring even more tests and results on top of testing our staff.”
Wilder said that negative test results are not allowed at this time “due to the additional workload of verifying negative tests.”
“We do not have the resources to do that right now,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t trust the parents [with the possible forging of negative test results], and that’s not the case at all. It’s about not having the resources to track those negative test results on a weekly basis.”
Sheri Zimmer, a parent who said she volunteers on several school committees at her daughter’s school, spoke out against the rule, saying it could negatively impact volunteer rates.
“I have never missed a party in my daughter’s 11 years, and this is her last year in elementary, and I’d hate to start that now,” she said. “I run four committees there because no one else will do it. So if I can’t go in the school and do these committees, I’ll have to give them to who? Because no one is stepping up. Volunteers are an issue, so don’t take those people away that are trying to do everything for our kids.”
Wilder said that visitors dropping off items to the main office will not have to show proof of anything or be checked for their vaccination status.
“Parents can still drop off items to the office like homework and gym shoes, or birthday party supplies like balloons and treats, but if they are not vaccinated, unfortunately, they will not be able to go into their child’s classroom,” he said. “After school events are a little different because they are optional. Unvaccinated parents can still be involved in meetings and after school events because there are less students involved and it is not during the school day.”
Wilder said he hopes with the anticipated arrival of state-provided SHIELD testing, a non-invasive saliva-based PCR test created by the University of Illinois, testing will be more easily available for volunteers.
He said onboarding for SHIELD testing is still in the planning stages, but volunteers, staff and students all will be able to utilize them. Wilder said no date has been set for SHIELD tests’ arrival, but the school district “hopes to announce when it will begin soon.”
The next Sycamore Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 26.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the policy regarding visitors and volunteers to Sycamore schools. The policy states that all visitors and volunteers who enter the building past the office during the school day must be vaccinated.