By Kathy Turner
Nearly 100 parents and community members attended the Special Meeting of the Collinsville Board of Education on Monday evening to address the mask mandate for the schools. As a direct result of the court’s recent decision that overruled Governor J. B. Pritzker’s authority to mandate masks for students in Illinois public schools, the group was focused on having the Board reconsider mask requirements for students in the district.
Ten parents formally addressed the board with prepared statements. They ranged from personal stories to statistical information to bolster their desire to see the district move to a mask-optional format. They also spoke of the awareness that for many districts, special funding has been tied to compliance to the Governor’s executive orders, leading to the decisions of some boards.
One mother asked that the board quit ‘siding with the Governor’ as the result of the court decision. She addressed members of the board, identifying that many were often seen in the community ‘in restaurants, bars, sporting events or house parties’ without masks, yet they ask that students wear masks throughout the school day.
She also reported that her child was allowed to attend school that day without a mask. When told by her teacher that she needed to put on a mask, she stated that her parents had told her that she didn’t need to wear a mask. The principal was called in and the parents were notified. As a result, the student was told that she could remain maskless but would need to spend her school day in the library away from other students.
Another mother brought statistical support for her desire to move to mask optional standards. According to her, Madison County health department statistics show the County is currently reporting 80 to 82% of those eligible have received at least one vaccine and 54 to 56% are fully vaccinated.
One mother spoke of the impact to the students, particularly the younger students. “The kids in the early grades do not even know what it was like before the pandemic. Their entire memories are of people in quarantine and masks. It is impacting their social development as well as their educational progress,” she stated. “My child is in kindergarten and is at risk of failing kindergarten. How does that happen? How does a child fail kindergarten?”
With exception of just one speaker, who supported masks, the audience in majority was asking that the Board reconsider their decision for mask mandates. They also pointed out that some districts were considering moving to virtual learning or elimination of extracurricular activities in response to the recent court decisions. Only two districts represented in the lawsuit from this region that lead to the court decision – Edwardsville and Collinsville – have decided to continue enforcing mask requirements.
The final speaker to the address the Board was Adem Konjevic. “I came to the United States from Bosnia,” said Konjevic. “My family came here to enjoy the freedoms the U.S. give us. We escaped the tyrannies and atrocities of a war-torn country. I came here and I studied civics and history. I know this country was founded on the people’s right to be heard and have our leaders listen. I am asking that you reconsider your decision for mask mandates and give our students the choice to attend school without the restrictions.”
After nearly fifty minutes of audience comments, the Board voted to enter closed session. They remained in closed session for approximately 45 minutes and returned to address the main topics of the special session which included construction projects in the district.