Yorkville School District 115 community forum participants split on mask policy

Final Board of Education vote still set for Aug. 9


A community forum organized by Yorkville School District 115 on Tuesday, July 27 did not reach a recommendation on mask policy for the incoming school year. That leaves no clear path for the district’s Board of Education, which is set to vote on masks early next month.

Many in the group of several dozen teachers, administrators, health officials and parents gathered Tuesday night at Yorkville High School seemed in favor of using local COVID-19 metrics to determine mask policy. If hospitalizations go up to a certain point, for example, then the district would make masks required.

Further complicating the incoming school year is a 48% vaccination rate among eligible students, according to a parent survey presented by officials Tuesday night. That same survey revealed 53.5% of parents want to give students a choice on whether or not they wear masks. On the other hand, 25.5% of families want all students masked, and 18.4% want only unvaccinated students masked.

As discussions continued, a consensus was not reached on how and if metrics should be used to determine mask policies.

“What data makes sense in a community that’s going to trigger some of these things? I don’t have that answer. I think it’s a really provocative question.” said Dr. Garrett Katula, a school board member and practicing physician. “I follow hospitalizations. If hospitalizations go up, that’s a bad sign. But then the horse is already out of the barn. You already have a problem.”

Others recommended following per capita case rates. Kendall County is seeing about 50 new cases each week. At that level, the Center for Disease Control does not recommend vaccinated people wear masks, per its new guidance released on Tuesday.

But Rachel Juarez, president of the Yorkville Education Association, the district’s union, pushed back on using data at all.

“I feel like one of the reasons we stayed open last year is because we never announced any hard data points,” Juarez said. “We kept these schools open last year because we followed IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health). Everybody knew the rules.”

Officials had opted for a dialogue-driven approach to determine its mask policy. Originally, they hoped the community forum would help give clear guidance to the school board for a final decision at its Monday, Aug. 9 board meeting. Apart from conflicting views at the community forum, new CDC recommendations on school mask policies handed down Tuesday has further complicated the district’s efforts to make a decision.

The federal health agency now recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status,” according to its website.

Tim Shimp, the district’s superintendent, said district officials view the new policy as a recommendation and not a requirement, though clarifications from the Illinois Department of Public Health and State Board of Education could change that.

“I think it puts another layer of uncertainty and adds more questions,” Shimp said in an interview, adding that it could complicate mask policies for younger students ineligible for the vaccine.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy along the way but we are going to be transparent,” Shimp said at the close of the forum. “You can rest assured that it’s going to be done with a heavy heart - whatever decision we make and whatever the board ultimately works with me on to come to an agreement on Aug. 9.”