Ottawa High parents say mandated masks will lead to segregation, bullying

Parents ask for masks to be optional for all students

Parents of Ottawa High School students said they want masks to be optional for all students when school returns.

They addressed the school board during its Monday meeting, citing the ineffectiveness of e-learning, and the potential for segregation and bullying if masks are mandated for unvaccinated students.

“I would like OTHS to make masks optional and not follow the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommended guidance on making unvaccinated children and staff wear masks while the vaccinated can breathe freely without having to wear one even though it is known that individuals can still be impacted as well as transmit the virus,” said Stephanie Simpko, mother of two Ottawa High students. “This policy is blatantly discriminatory.”

Simpko said the guidance also is a violation of privacy, as being forced to wear a mask could leave a child open to bullying both in person and on social media.

She is concerned students will be shamed and singled out if they or their family chooses not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination shot.

Simpko also said she’s concerned the continuance of e-learning will provide challenges for her children’s future.

Christine Simmons, another Ottawa High parent, said she is concerned about potential diseases that could be caused by wearing masks and said masks cause a rise in carbon dioxide levels breathed in.

The CDC denies that statement in an FAQ on its website, saying a cloth mask does not provide an airtight fit across the face.

“[Carbon dioxide] completely escapes into the air through the cloth mask when you breathe out or talk,” reads the FAQ. “[Carbon dioxide] molecules are small enough to easily pass through any cloth mask material. In contrast, the respiratory droplets that carry the virus that causes COVID-19 are much larger than [carbon dioxide], so they cannot pass as easily through a properly designed and properly worn cloth mask.”

Matt Penoyer, a third parent, agreed with both Simmons and Simpko the board should conduct a survey to find out what parents think should happen in the fall. His concern originated when he saw his daughter not show the same interest in school she once did, and he’s worried wearing a mask will segregate the students from each other.

Superintendent Michael Cushing said the school still has numerous unknowns to address after CDC guidelines were issued last week, but students will be returning for full days of instruction Aug. 12.

“Over the last 16 months, our priorities have been the health and safety of our students and staff and this will continue moving forward,” Cushing said. “We respectfully ask everyone to continue monitoring the district websites as information related to the start of the 2021-22 school year is updated regularly.”

Cushing said that as of the new guidelines, fully vaccinated students no longer have to wear masks during school events.

“This is excellent news and a good step, and certainly consistent with the information that we received on June 11 relative to playing high school sports indoors,” Cushing said.

Cushing said additional guidance will come from the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health as it relates to students. IDPH is creating a K-12 guideline for schools, Cushing said.

Ottawa High is not alone addressing these issues. La Salle County Regional Superintendent Chris Dvorak said local health departments will have a hand in providing local data to help school districts in setting its guidelines based on the rate of virus spread and vaccinations in the area.