Joliet Township High School District 204 is planning to require unvaccinated students and staff members to wear face masks while in school this upcoming year.
District 204 Superintendent Karla Guseman detailed the policy along with other measures for the upcoming school year in a presentation to the School Board last Tuesday.
The district, which includes both Joliet West and Joliet Central High Schools, is planning to bring students back in person full time as spread of COVID-19 has greatly declined in past months.
Guseman argued for following public health guidance on masking because of the district’s inability to implement proper social distancing and vaccinations among students. She said only 6% of students have reported being vaccinated for COVID-19.
“I’m, again, very concerned about not only safety but the quarantining rules and what could happen if we have 3,400 kids and the majority of them aren’t vaccinated, and if a large proportion of them don’t have masks on,” Guseman told the board.
The board still will have to approve Guseman’s plan at its Aug. 11 meeting.
As with several other public school districts, District 204′s discussions over its health mitigations came amid passionate arguments from parents and community members, specifically over whether to mandate mask wearing for students.
At Tuesday’s meeting, several speakers made comments that were at times heated concerning the pandemic and health mitigations to combat it.
Joliet Township Trustee Suzanna Ibarra argued that requiring masks was important for protecting children who are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. She also decried the myriad claims some have used to argue against vaccinations and mask mandates as baseless.
“COVID is real,” Ibarra said. “The biggest problem with fighting this pandemic is fighting the misinformation.”
Another local official, Joliet Junior College Trustee Michelle Lee, used part of her public comment time to try to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who has been a target of conservatives. Lee also pleaded with the board to not segregate children based on their vaccination status, even though the district did not propose such a policy.
Board members later questioned Guseman about what the district was allowed to do in the event an unvaccinated student arrived at school without a mask. Guseman said the district is in a “difficult situation” when it comes to enforcement.
She said the district would try to talk with unvaccinated students and their family about the rules for quarantining and whether that student was exposed to someone with COVID-19. However, the district would not want to exclude that student from class, she said.
Other board members likened such a violation to students not abiding by the district’s dress code.
The superintendent also discussed other measures the district plans to take, including possibly participating in a state program to provide rapid testing in schools.
Guseman said the district is piloting the program with its summer school students and plans to expand it districtwide this fall. She said parents or guardians would have to consent to their child being tested.
One benefit for a district participating in the testing program is that a student being tested would face a less strict quarantine requirement if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Guseman said the modified quarantine requirement “could potentially greatly reduce the number of students and staff who may need to quarantine.”
She said the measure also could create a “less chaotic environment.”