Parents and community members showed their diverse and passionate thoughts on masks for students and staff in the coming school year in emails sent to the Oswego School District 308 Board of Education and superintendent.
The emails, obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, help illustrate the intense feedback school district officials were receiving as they considered whether to impose a mask-wearing requirement this school year.
Ultimately, the board voted 6-0, with one abstention, at its July 12 meeting to make masks optional for students, faculty and staff this school year. Masks, however, will be mandatory on school buses.
Superintendent John Sparlin, however, sent out a letter this week informing parents that district officials are reviewing a COVID-19 mitigation plan and considering guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Illinois Department of Public Health.
During the July 12 board meeting, officials thanked the public for reaching out and communicating with the board and administration.
“Most helpful for me, were the emails that explained how their students were affected by wearing masks, or the students and families that are concerned about what strategies we have in place, should COVID rear its ugly head again,” Board member Jennifer Johnson, who later abstained from the vote, said.
“These emails are helpful and reflective of what your neighbors and fellow parents feel, and it helps us understand beyond our own personal lenses.”
Johnson and Board Secretary Ruth Kroner also highlighted emails and comments that took a stronger tone against mask wearing.
“We will not shy away from this discussion, but we must have respect and civility for the betterment of our students and our staff,” Johnson said
“We want to know public opinion. We want to know what you think, what you feel, what your perspective is,” Kroner said. “But to do what you want us to do, that’s not our job.”
Following the meeting, the Oswego Ledger filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the district, seeking to obtain emails the board and superintendent received between the June 7 and July 12 board meetings. The district blocked out the names of people who contacted the district.
“We say no to this mandate”
As was reflected in public comment at the meeting of the board, feelings over wearing masks in schools this fall have been intense on both sides of the issue. Here are some examples:
“I am aware that one consideration could be to require any non-vaccinated students to wear a mask, but not require that of vaccinated students. When considering this, please ask yourselves if you would like to teach discrimination and segregation to your children? As well as to the future leaders of our world?,” one letter writer wrote. “I would prefer to continue to teach my children inclusion and equality, no matter how others differ...should a student become ill from mask wearing, is the school district willing to be liable? Will the district pay any and all medical expenses arising from that?
“As a taxpayer, I am not willing to pay for any damages done to students from forced masking.”
Another reference the Nuremberg trials that took place after World War II in which Nazi leaders were tried: “We say no to this mandate. I ask each of you to go back and study the Nuremberg Code. It is against that code to force anyone to take or do anything against their wills or better judgements. Back during the Nuremberg trials, most of the ones that were executed were actually doctors and teachers for going along with the atrocities.”
A third writer asked the board and Sparlin, “If individuals have the vaccination, why should they be worried about students who don’t/and or do not have a mask on? It does not make sense.
“Each person has the responsibility to protect themselves and we should have the right and the choice to do what is best for our child. How does anyone know what that is better than the child’s own parent? There was a time when this outbreak first happened over a year ago, that efforts were made to protect the larger population, but now it is time to do what is best for our own child.”
Some writers, who told the board and Sparlin about the research they had conducted in their letters, that they believe masks should not be worn for extended periods of time.
“My wife and I strongly oppose any attempts to segregate students, whether by forcing unvaccinated children to wear masks, sit in different areas from other children or apply quarantine rules in a different manner than any other child,” they wrote.
“Proper mask wearing is essential”
A vocal number of parents also wrote to the members of the board and superintendent, expressing their disappointment in the board’s decision to make masks optional.
“We are still fighting a pandemic, and remote learning is no longer a choice to keep my child safe from those who think their rights to not mask trump the safety of others,” one parent wrote. “There are so many vulnerable children and family members who will be put at risk unnecessarily if masks are not mandated.”
Another called for a mask mandate at all grade levels, writing, “I feel that anything less than a 100% mask mandate for unvaccinated children (thus, all children) in middle and elementary schools would be a terrible mistake…if there is no mask policy and a child contracts COVID-19 before a vaccine for their age group is available, it will be this board’s decision that is completely responsible.”
One writer, who said they were a doctor in the area, called mask-wearing, “essential” to a safe school year.
“I see people on Facebook losing their minds about this and others saying it’s about time…I am a doctor working in this area and I can assure you things are on the upswing again,” they wrote. “These kids most certainly should be in school, but proper mask wearing is essential to completing the school year without incident.”
An email sent following the board’s July 12 vote criticized the board’s decision, calling it “based on public peer pressure.”
“It is clear from tonight’s board meeting that there are many parents in our district who have no plans to vaccinate their kids or make them wear a mask. Since you are aware of this, your failure to mandate masks in essence ignores CDC and IDPH guidance which clearly states that masks should be worn by all individuals who are not vaccinated,” they wrote.
“Your decision indicates that it was based on public pressure and puts the district in a precarious position both legally and educationally...as elected board members, your duty is to serve all the students in the district. Tonight you failed that duty by bowing to pressure from parents who choose to ignore science, including some that don’t even reside in our district.”
The district′s current mask guidance does not require masks to be worn by staff or students while in school, but does require them while on school transportation. The district also is not requiring staff or students to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status. The directive is also described as “subject to change” based upon changes in the number of cases in the area and revised public health guidance.
A full presentation on the district’s safety plan for the 2021-2022 school year will be made at the Aug. 9 meeting of the Board of Education. The first day of school is Aug. 18.