No decision made on masks for Geneva D-304 as parents pack Monday meeting

‘Masks are the only option for students not old enough to receive vaccination’

GENEVA – The battle of the mask – to require masks or make them optional when school starts next month – played out for nearly two hours July 19 at the Geneva District 304 School Board meeting.

About 50 people attended, their statements a back-and-forth match – serve, volley, point, repeat.

The board did not decide what to do July 19. Superintendent Kent Mutchler said in planning for the school year the district would use layered strategies and rely on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kane County Health Department.

“We don’t have enough information to finalize that plan. School starts in one month,” Mutchler said. “Our goal is to keep students safe.”

Children younger than 12 cannot be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Parent Stephanie Bellino cited the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends in-person learning and mask wearing when students return to school this fall.

“It’s not the parent’s choice,” Bellino said, noting restrictions on eating peanut butter and other foods when a student in a class has an allergy.

“Sometimes there’s things we have to do for the greater good,” Bellino said. “Please make masks required for all nonvaccinated students and staff.”

Parent Todd Van Rossum countered, saying, “I speak for the silent majority of taking masks off our kids.”

Those words received loud applause from most of the parents at the meeting.

Ilena Ogden, the mother of a high-risk student, asked the board to continue to follow CDC and public health guidelines on masks.

“Your inconvenience could mean life and death for my family and other families in the district,” Ogden said.

Many parents said they would send their children to school without masks regardless of what the board decided. They said the inside of a mask builds up bacteria, and that if someone got COVID-19, the district was not at risk of a lawsuit because it isn’t possible to prove where a person got it.

Parent Emily Erickson said the masks that children wear are not medical grade and make no claims for microbial protection.

“I came tonight to show my support to make masks optional for student and staff,” Erickson said. “It is time to return risk management back to the hands of us parents. It is time to stop punishing or hurting our children’s emotional, physical and developmental well-being by forcing them to wear a futile piece of fabric over their precious faces.”

Parent Stephanie Anthony said masks work and credited the low transmission rate in district schools to the fact that staff and students wore masks while they were in the buildings.

“Masks are the only option for students not old enough to receive vaccination,” Anthony said.

Parent Holly Heimlich said science is not a belief system.

“The reality is this is a matter of public health,” Heimlich said.

Emma Harvey, 17, who will be a senior at Geneva High School, said wearing a mask last year was “awful. It was demeaning.”

She and other students lost out on making friends because of the masks, Harvey said.

“It was extremely frustrating,” Harvey said.

Addison Kipfer, a seventh grader in Wheaton District 200, said she was showing her support for Geneva students to have masks be optional.

“It’s very hard to breathe. It’s very hot and distracting,” Addison said of wearing masks in school. “My district … was brave enough to unmask us. Please unmask us in District 304.”