QUINCY — Students, staff and visitors will be masked indoors to start the 2021-22 year under new guidance adopted Wednesday by the Quincy School Board.
The guidance, approved on a 5-2 vote at a special meeting, aligns with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order, issued last week, mandating masks at Illinois pre-K-12 schools, day cares and long-term care facilities.
Board President Sayeed Ali and board members Shelley Arns, Latonya Brock, Carol Nichols and Rachael Petty voted in favor of the guidance. Board members Richard McNay and Jim Whitfield opposed the guidance.
The guidance, and the state mandate, came under fire in more than 90 minutes of public comment from 21 people punctuated by rousing cheers and applause from a crowd gathered in the Quincy High School cafeteria.
“If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask,” Tori Kaufman said. “You guys are willing to ruin another school year over this? Do the right thing. Stand up for our kids.”
Quincy parent Steve Quinn said he’s fed up.
“I’m not putting a muzzle on my child,” Quinn said. “Please allow us to have a choice. Please allow our children not to have to deal with this for a second year in a row.”
Seven-year-old Aubrey Quinn stood on a chair to reach the microphone to talk to board members.
“Kids don’t like masks. It should be no masks,” she said.
“My child chooses no mask, so she will not be wearing one this year,” parent Jody Cook said. “A mask is considered a medical device, one which my child and thousands of other children do not want and do not need.”
Others spoke out in favor of a mask mandate, saying it could help protect the community.
“People do support what you’re doing,” one woman told the board. “We want to say thank you. We do support wearing masks and ultimately keeping our children safe.”
The division mirrors what board members have heard from the community on the issue.
“For one email we get advocating for a mask mandate we have one saying they should be optional, whether that’s from staff or parents,” Board President Sayeed Ali said.
“Going into a situation where we know we can’t make everyone happy is tough, but we are doing the best we can.”
Under back-to-school guidance adopted last month, masks were not required outdoors, not required in most indoor settings for vaccinated individuals and highly recommended for indoor settings for unvaccinated individuals. Masking was required on school buses and in large gatherings or assemblies.
Pritzker’s executive order shifted masking from a recommendation for the unvaccinated to a requirement for all. Board members said it was important to follow the state mandate because districts that flout the governor’s order take significant risks.
But the guidance also makes clear that things will change throughout the school year.
“Last year, even though our overall plan stayed the same the entire year, we were constantly adjusting. We will do the same this year,” the guidance said.
“We can always become less restrictive as conditions change. We will also prepare to be more restrictive if the virus spreads more in the Quincy and Adams County area,” Superintendent Roy Webb said in the guidance. “Changes may occur quickly, but they will always be in consultation with the Board of Education and Adams County Health Department.”