By Stephanie Malench
Prior to the special school board meeting for Collinsville Unit 10 on July 12, about three dozen concerned parents, teachers and taxpayers from the Facebook group Collinsville Unmasked District 10 stood outside the Annex with signs looking for support in telling the Collinsville School Board to let parents decide whether or not their children wear masks to school.
At press time, the group has 347 members and was founded by Natasha Box about six weeks ago and has been advocating for parental control and personal choice for teachers and students.
School Board President Gary Peccola read the following statement from Superintendent Dr. Brad Skertich before public comment so the speakers would know where the district stands on the new recommendations from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“Over the weekend CDC, IDPH and ISBE provided the following guidance for the upcoming school year:
• Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority.
•Masks should be worn indoors by all individuals (age 2 and older) who are not fully vaccinated. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important and in crowded settings, when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
•CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask wearing by people who are not fully vaccinated, to reduce transmission risk. When it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least 3 feet, such as when schools cannot fully re-open while maintaining these distances, it is especially important to layer multiple other prevention strategies, such as indoor masking.
“The district is using the recommendations to finalize its Return to Learn Plan that will include a five day school week and normal operating hours, while socially distancing to the greatest extend possible in our elementary buildings, Dorris Intermediate, Collinsville Middles School and Collinsville High School.
“We appreciate your patience while we finalize the district’s Return to Learn Plan. The plan will be posted for review on the district’s website on July 23. A public hearing regarding the plan will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, July 26 prior to a special meeting. The public may attend the hearing or send any comments regarding the plan by July 26 at noon”.
During public comment before the meeting Box went to the podium and expressed relief that the CDC , Illiois Department of Public Health, and the Illinois school Board of Education were recommending local control on masks and social distancing.
A survey of parents and teachers in the community that Box has been conducting shows that 92% want masks to be optional when school starts next month and 90% want vaccines to be optional.
Unit 10 parent Amy Graney said she is concerned that “we are creating division by saying vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks and unvaccinated people do”.
Another parent, Holly Johnson echoed the message, saying “it’s our children and our health. We should have a choice. We don’t want nonvaccinated children to be discriminated against”.
Brent Johnson, a father and a minister at Navigation Church said “It is personal responsibility whether or not our member come in with a mask”, and believes schools should be operated.