Batavia school mask policy still undetermined after Tuesday meeting

District 101 to announce decision prior to Aug. 18 start date

BATAVIA – Batavia School District 101 will announce its policy on masks for students and faculty sometime prior to the first day of classes on Aug. 18.

The decision will be made by a 13-member task force of administrators, teachers, a nurse and the district’s Director of Operations Mark Anderson, school board President Cathy Dremel said.

The school district will announce the policy via its website, social media and direct communication channels, Dremel told a crowd of about 50 parents who jammed into the Rosalie Jones Administration Center on July 20 for the regular monthly school board meeting.

Dremel and school Superintendent Lisa Hichens said the district is in no hurry for the task force to reach an immediate decision.

“What people need to know now is that we’re opening our school doors full-time,” Hichens said after the meeting, adding that the announcement on the mask policy will come in plenty of time for parents, students and teachers to prepare.

About 20 parents took turns at the lectern to make appeals to the school board on the undetermined mask policy.

While a few urged the district to require masks, most told the board that the face coverings should be optional.

The level of applause after each speaker finished clearly demonstrated that the overwhelming majority in the audience were opposed to a mask requirement.

“This is not beneficial for our kids,” parent Mark Pepping told the board. “We should be allowed to make our own choices.”

Only four or five people in the room were wearing masks. All of the school board members and administrators were without face coverings.

“There is no reason for kids to be masked in the fall,” parent Amy Kielion said. “Masks are ineffective and doing more harm than good.”

Parent Tori Conroy described mask requirements as “government overreach,” and urged the board to “please vote for parental choice.”

However, Ben Hartman said “we’re not at the end” of the COVID pandemic and asserted that “schools that mandate masks are safer.”

Several of the parents opposed to a mask requirement told the board that the district should not require teachers to be vaccinated to keep their jobs.

After the meeting, Dremel said the district has no plans to require teachers to be vaccinated.

Parents opposed to masks told stories of their children contracting staph infections and having difficulty breathing. They said that when removing their masks while outdoors, their children were bullied by other students as “grandma killers.”

While acknowledging that the crowd was largely opposed to masks, Dremel also noted that the district has received a significant number of emails in support of requiring face coverings.

In keeping with their policy, board members simply listened to the comments from the public without responding or engaging with the speakers.

However, later in the meeting during the portion reserved for board member comments, the elected officials sought to assure those parents who remained that their opinions were being heard.

“I’m always glad to see people speaking from the heart,” board member Sue Locke said.