QUINCY — Quincy Public Schools students refusing to wear a mask won’t be allowed in classrooms to start the 2021-22 year and risk unexcused absences.
New guidance issued by QPS on Sunday outlines what happens when anyone — a student, a visitor or someone attending a school event — refuses to wear a mask. The School Board last week voted to comply with Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s executive order, which has the force of law, mandating masks at Illinois pre-K-12 schools, day cares and long-term care facilities.
“Whether people think it’s fair or unfair, we’ve been advised by health experts, risk experts, legal experts in the state of Illinois that this is required,” Superintendent Roy Webb said. “We’ve been through the debate. We’ve listened to their concerns. The decision is made. We’re going to execute the plan as written.”
The first test of the guidance comes Wednesday with the start of classes, and Webb said the district will be prepared.
“We’re pretty blessed in Quincy that we have a pretty robust and experienced security staff, experienced principals and school administrators. We have a very supportive first responder team including the Quincy Police Department,” he said. “I feel comfortable that we’ll have all the resources needed to keep kids safe and to allow people to protest if they want to but keep our educational environment the way it needs to be.”
Under the plan, students will be required to wear a mask indoors. If students are wearing a mask improperly, they will be reminded to correct it.
Students refusing to wear a mask will be offered options such as a gaiter, shield or mask while school support staff and administration offer encouragement and try to problem solve. If the refusal continues, administration will contact the parent/guardian to pick up their child — or if a high schooler drove to school, the student will be sent home and support staff or administration will contact the parent/guardian.
Sending K-5 and junior high students home for refusing a mask on Wednesday, Thursday and/or Friday — and students at Quincy High School and the Academy on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and/or Monday, Aug. 23 — will be marked as an excused absence while the school works with families to problem solve so learning can continue safely in line with district guidelines.
Beginning Aug. 23, and Aug. 24 for grades 9-12, students who continue to refuse to wear a mask will be sent home with an unexcused absence.
QPS will accept medical exemptions, signed by a medical doctor, for wearing a mask or face covering, the guidance said, and like last year, the district will work with students with disabilities to ensure they are safe and doing the best they can.
Parents and community members typically support school policies, but some parents have been vocal in their opposition to masking students at recent School Board meetings and on social media.
“This will be something we haven’t had, where parents/guardians and community members are saying you don’t have to follow that rule,” Webb said.
But he said blaming those that try to enforce the directive isn’t fair.
“Our principals, teachers, bus drivers and staff are just doing their job. They are required to enforce the state order, board policy and superintendent directives,” Webb said in the guidance.
“If you are upset, it is acceptable to peacefully protest the decision, continue to voice your concerns with any language you want on social media. You may attend our Wednesday night board meeting and talk with the board in public comment. You may take legal action against the district in the courts, you may have a petition for the termination and removal of the superintendent,” he said. “All of those are acceptable courses of action. Impacting the educational environment, yelling or using profanity toward our staff are not acceptable.”
Under the guidance, students will not be allowed on a bus without a mask.
If the student refusing to wear a mask is accompanied to the bus stop by a parent/guardian, they will be sent home with the parent/guardian
If unaccompanied, students will be placed in a seat on the bus away from other students and taken to school where staff and administration will work with the student to problem solve so learning can continue or contact a parent/guardian to pick up the child.
“In a lot of situations, the bus driver will be the first person that sees that child or deals with those parents,” Webb said. “If a parent is yelling and screaming at the bus driver, put the kid on the bus. Let the building principal figure it out.”
Visitors will not be allowed in any school without a mask, and masks are required at all indoor school events.
If a visitor does not have a mask, one will be offered, the guidance said. If the visitor refuses to wear a mask or alternative option, school administration will meet with the visitor outside, or a meeting can be set up via phone or virtual call.