Marengo High School District 154 pushing students to mask up

District also plans to hold a vaccine clinic in August

As many school districts around McHenry County decide to make masks optional for students regardless of vaccination status, Marengo High School District 154 students and staff will be told to wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated when school returns next month.

“As of this date, individuals who are not vaccinated should wear a mask, even when social distancing,” Superintendent David Engelbrecht said in a letter to parents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines this week, recommending masks in schools for everyone regardless of vaccination status instead of just those who are not fully vaccinated.

“You’re essentially splitting everyone into two groups,” board member David Schultz said at a school board meeting Wednesday. “Why can’t we make just one set of rules for everyone? We’re risking putting people in a bad position. Let’s just put it out there and recommend everyone wears a mask.”

Schultz argued that because the school isn’t checking on a student’s vaccination status, students who have not been vaccinated will be able to get away with not wearing a mask.

Engelbrecht said they made the decision to use the word “should” because that is what the CDC uses. He said the guidance is what breaks people into groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, not the school.

“I fully expect kids that aren’t vaccinated will wear a mask,” Engelbrecht said.

Board member Todd Volkening said students will choose to do whatever they want, but following the guidance of public health officials is the best approach.

All members of the board voted in favor of adopting the guidance despite a lengthy debate about whether stricter guidance should be adopted. Unless many other school board meetings across the region, no parents or other members of the public attended to weigh in.

Engelbrecht pointed out this is where the school stands currently on mitigations and things could change quickly. He wanted that message to be clear to parents.

“Please be reminded this plan is subject to change pursuant to updated public health guidance and changing public health conditions,” he wrote in the letter to parents.

Engelbrecht said he thinks students will be responsive to whatever the school asks, especially because Marengo Community High School was one of the few schools in the area to be in-person all of last year. However, he wants everyone to be prepared for things to change with short notice.

“It’s like a snow day every day where I’m looking at the numbers every day,” he said.

Marengo Union Elementary School District 165 may be making changes to their optional mask policy to align with the latest guidance from the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health, Superintendent Lea Damisch said.

Damisch said she isn’t ready to send a revised final plan to parents yet because the situation could change before school starts, but she currently is planning to “strongly recommend” masks in school. Her original plan made masks optional for everyone.

“I honestly think when we open school, most of my kids will be masked,” Damisch said.

The first day of school for District 165 is Aug. 23, while the high school returns Aug. 19.

McHenry County is listed as having substantial transmission by the CDC, the point at which guidelines from the CDC and IDPH recommend people wear a mask indoors – not just in schools – even if vaccinated.