QUINCY — The Quincy School Board adopted a back-to-school plan Wednesday night that highly recommends, but doesn’t require, masks for unvaccinated students and staff.
“If you would look around school districts in Illinois and through the country, I think you would see guidance that is more stringent, more strict than ours, and you see guidance that is much more lax than ours,” School Board President Sayeed Ali said. “We had to look at our community, approach it the way we think is the best way for our community members, students and staff. This is where we’re at right now.”
The 7-0 vote followed little discussion by the board but 90 minutes of public comments from the crowd packed into the Quincy High School cafeteria for and against masks, quarantines and other COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“Masks should be options. Our children’s health is our problem not yours,” one woman said.
COVID-19 is not going anywhere, but “my daughter is not wearing a mask no matter what,” Dr. Alan Richardson said.
“Our children have done their part. It’s time to end COVID tyranny,” Tori Kaufman said.
“I have issues with the fact we’re making it highly recommended rather than required,” Charlie Klingele said. “If you’re unvaccinated, that is a choice you made, a freedom you have. The trade-off is you wear a mask.”
Other speakers urged parent choice, already is included in the guidance, which states parents and their children should have conversations about what is best for them with the masking recommendation.
Quincy parent Roni Quinn argued against the draconian measures used during the last school year and continuing them this year.
“Who put you in charge of making decisions for my child?” Quinn said. “No additional guidelines should be shoved down our throats unless we are asked and we have full participation in creating those guidelines.”
Quincy parent Jennifer Bock Nelson asked the board to consider the message they could send to students with their vote.
“At a certain point we need to demonstrate to QPS students that it’s not about what is popular. It’s about what has been shown empirically through science and interpreted by experts who know what they’re talking about,” she said. “I would encourage you to not give way and to follow the experts.”
The wide-ranging comments mirrored what Superintendent Roy Webb and board members say they’ve heard through social media, email and phone calls from a community divided on wearing masks despite a resurgence in COVID cases and concerns about the new Delta variant.
“We know a large percentage of our community members will be disappointed in our decision and might be upset with what our position is,” Ali said.
“We want to know what our community members are thinking. If there’s one thing everybody’s passionate about it’s our kids. We understand the passion and their thoughts and how important they feel it is to communicate those thoughts.”
The plan provides a template for the start of school — Aug. 16 for staff and Aug. 18 for students — with in-person learning and a goal of three feet of social distance in classrooms and hallways. But things can, and most likely will, change through the school year.
“Changes may occur quickly, but they will always be in consultation with the Board of Education and Adams County Health Department,” the plan said. “Last year, even though our overall plan stayed the same the entire year, we were constantly adjusting. We will do the same this year.”
In other action, the Quincy School Board:
• Heard an update on summer school, held during June and early July, and projects in the district including ongoing renovations at Quincy Junior High School, expected to wrap up this summer on Aug. 6.
• Adopted a Finance Committee recommendation to accept food bids — $803,361.74 for food and non-food items for six months from sole bidder Kohl Wholesale and $53,556.79 for bread from Kohl, $227,662.50 for milk from Prairie Farms and $1.30 for a full case and 75 cents for a broken case or produce from Central Illinois Produce for the 2021-22 school year.
• Approved updates to 13 district policies including a provision allowing board members attending remotely to constitute a quorum for meetings and a measure establishing a parent advisory committee focused on students learning English as a second language.
• Approved a $513,760 lease with Dell for laptop computers and software for staff and support staff.