“When I start third grade, will I still have to wear a mask?”
That was the opening line of a letter Lisa Ruesch wrote in a letter to the New Lenox School District 122 school board on Tuesday explaining her reasons why District 122 should let the decision to “to mask or unmask our children” be the parent’s choice.
Ruesch’s letter references the Health Care Right of Conscience Act and the state of Illinois’ public policy “to respect and protect the right of conscience of all persons” in regards to health and medical care, the act said. This should include face masks, Ruesch feels.
On July 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for preventing COVID-19 in schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, and on Friday the Illinois Department of Public Health adopted that guidance.
Ruesch also started a petition through change.org about ending the mask mandate in school-aged children at District 122 for the 2021-2022 school year. It had 747 signatures as of Tuesday evening.
“Government mandates or school board edicts should have no role in this decision,” the petition reads.
If that does happen, “the outcome won’t be good, I fear,” Ruesch said over the phone on Tuesday.
A group of parents also delivered a petition to the Yorkville Community Unit School District 115 school board.
A chorus of facemask objections
The “Masks off in the Fall” Facebook group also says parents at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood are against face masks and vaccine mandates.
Awake IL, which has a Plainfield chapter and a Facebook page, sent a letter to District 202 in Plainfield with similar concerns. The letter further states that guidance from the CDC, the IDPH and Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois State Board of Education is just that, guidance and not mandates.
But during a District 115 meeting on June 28, school officials said the district could lose “tens of millions of dollars in funding, legal liability and de-certification as a public school in Illinois” if it openly violated pandemic rules, according to a July 1 Kendall County Now story.
Red Hill District 10 in southern Illinois was put on probation after its school board voted to make masks optional, the Kendall County Now story said.
Tom Hernandez, director of community relations at District 202, also said some parents have expressed concerns about students wearing face masks at the last two District 202 board meetings and said he anticipates more of the same at Monday’s board meeting.
“People are concerned and it’s their right to be concerned,” Hernandez said. “Our job is to hear those concerns, which we will do, and then take that into account with a lot of other information on what’s in the best interest of the entire school district.”
Parents express their concerns
Parents also expressed concerns about face masks at District 122′s June board meeting. Concerns included the distraction of face masks, which could impact children’s academic and social/emotional education. Teachers and students were missing social and emotional cues because they couldn’t see faces, parents said, and children were becoming anxious and/or dehydrated. One parent said her child had severe headaches, crying, vomiting and night terrors.
Lori Motsch, superintendent of District 122, did not return a call from The Herald-News on Tuesday.
What about the health risks?
Ruesch said in her letter that children’s face masks breed “disease and bacteria, including pneumonia, parasites and fungi” and that they quickly raise children’s carbon dioxide levels. She linked to a German study that found increased levels after children wore two different face masks without further description of the facemasks.
“There are no studies out there that show face masks are safe and effective,” Ruesch said on Tuesday.
Yet a team at the University of Illinois did conduct research on various face masks to find the most effective ones – and the CDC referenced its work, which also includes other research on face masks.
The Centers for Disease Control said cloth masks aren’t airtight, that carbon dioxides can still pass through them even as they limit the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Some people do develop rashes due to the face masks, but dermatologists can help with that. And that circles back to Ruesch’s point.
“Parents need to be the ones that make this decision for their children,” Ruesch said. “It shouldn’t be left up to the government. It should not be left up to the school board … the numbers of children actually getting COVID are almost non-existent to very miniscule. Why we are throwing masks on these kids makes no sense.”
But data from the Illinois Department of Public Health said 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.
If not face masks, then where should one focus?
Ruesch said kids need normalcy and parents need to help them grow a strong immune system with proper sleep, nutrition and exercise.
“If you have an immune-compromised child, then mask them if that makes you feel more comfortable,” Ruesch said. “Do what you have to do to accommodate that. But you can’t expect everyone else to comply with that ... If we don’t stop this now, it will never end.”