After hearing more than an hour of comments from the public, the La Salle-Peru High School board decided it will reconvene 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3, to decide the district’s guidelines on mask wearing for the upcoming school year.
After Wednesday, the majority of the board was leaning toward not requiring masks when class resumes in-person for the 2021-2022 school year.
The majority of speakers opposed a vaccine or mask requirement for students and staff for the upcoming school year.
Advocates reasons against mask mandates varied slightly, but mostly centered around the idea of masks being unsafe or ineffective, the individual’s or parent’s right to choose and the alienation and possible bullying an unvaccinated student may face if they are required to wear a mask when others may not have to.
Following public input, board members gave their stances regarding mask guidelines.
Tony Sparks, Carol Alcorn, Sally Taliani, Matt Merboth and Greg Sarver said they believe individuals have a right to choose to wear a mask or get a vaccine.
Newest board member Gary Ferrari said he intends to vote for what he believes is best for all students.
“You have a right to make choices for your family and your children and I have absolutely no problem with that,” Ferrari. “I believe in individual rights, except when it crosses the line and could affect the lives of other people’s children. That’s my big problem with refusing to be vaccinated and refusing to wear a mask.”
Board member Rose Marie Lynch said she was undecided at this time.
No formal decision was made Wednesday as Superintendent Steven Wrobleski will meet with administration and prepare a recommendation Aug. 3. The board will then make their final decision on mask guidelines.
Peru resident Matt Becker read an excerpt from the student handbook regarding bullying and said the state of Illinois, the CDC, the IDPH and the Illinois State Board of Education has threatened local school administrations into following set guidelines.
“Not only is this wrong, but it is illegal and Sen. Darren Bailey would have your back on this subject,” Becker said. “I strongly encourage you to do your homework regarding the governing bodies reopening guidelines.”
Becker said kindergarten through 12th graders are low risk for infection or transmission of COVID-19; an opinion shared by many who questioned the prevalence and severity of COVID within a school-aged population. According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, reported cases in kids ages 5 to 11 averaged 1,056 new cases per week from June 2020 through June 2021. For kids ages 12 to 17, they averaged 1,587 new cases per week during the same time period, per state data.
Publicly available state hospitalization data for COVID-19 is not split up by age, and excludes pediatrics, pediatric ICUs and neo-natal ICUs. In the city of Chicago, there have been 598 total hospitalizations for kids newborn to 17 for the pandemic as of July 12. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children were 1.3% to 3.6% of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.1% to 1.9% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.
Deaths for the 20 and under population remain the lowest of any age group in the state, with a total of only 20 statewide for the entire pandemic as of July 13.
Parents mentioned concerns about the health effects of children wearing masks. In an FAQ on the CDC website, the agency notes carbon dioxide levels breathed in by mask wearers do not rise.
“[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.”
Angela Rundle, another parent in the district, said decisions about vaccinations and masks are her family’s decision, and theirs only, to make.
“So as a family that does not vaccinate, because that is our choice, you are saying that we must wear a mask,” Rundle said. “The government and state officials do not control us, we control ourselves. I am not going to let anyone tell me or my children to get a vaccine.”
La Salle resident Amanda Hand was the lone speaker during public comment in favor of further measures for students.
“I don’t want us to make undereducated guesses, that’s what it comes down to,” Hand said. “A lot of medical professionals with medical type brains have made decisions based on their science and on their schooling.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended Monday all children over the age of 2 wear masks when returning to school this year, regardless of vaccination status.
Hand said many vaccine providers have applied for official FDA approval and the school could be ahead of future requirements if the school makes informed decisions now.
“My family, all ages 12 and up have been vaccinated and even my kids’ great-grandmother of 89 years old has been vaccinated,” Hand said. “If she can do it, we all can.”
The CDC recommended this month vaccinated students do not have to wear masks in classrooms.