Dist 117 Gathering More Info Before Mask Decision

By Jeremy Coumbes on July 22, 2021 at 9:56am

The District 117 Board is taking a little more time to make a decision on if masks will be a requirement for the new school year.

The board had a lengthy discussion during last night’s regular meeting after it was announced that a final decision on just what the new school year will look like will be made during a special meeting the first week of August.

School Board President Noel Beard says it’s not a decision that needs to be rushed at the present time.

We weren’t ready to do it tonight, we are still seeing what the other districts in the area are doing. We are seeing what changes may be made between IDPH and ISBE between now and a little bit closer to the start of school. And we also want to get the input from our stakeholders, so from our parents and families, and from our employees, our teachers our para-pros, secretaries, maintenance, and bus drivers. Mr. Ptacek will be speaking with our union heads between now and our next meeting.”

School Superintendent Steve Ptacek was absent from the meeting due to feeling under the weather, however, he had communicated with the Board via emails leading up to the meeting. Ptacek said the district is essentially needing to look at three to four options for mask-wearing during the coming year.

The options range from requiring masks to be worn at all levels, only requiring those who can prove they are vaccinated to go without a mask, or requiring kindergarten through 5th-grade students to wear masks while in school, and masks being optional in grades 6 through 12.

Beard says the idea behind the last option is that the vaccine is only approved for youth age 12 and older, so students who are not old enough may need to cover up.

Compounding the problem is still issues with current regulations when it comes to lunch hours and PE classes where three feet of separation is still a requirement.

Beard says with all of that in mind, there is a lot of discussion of starting the new school year off just as the last one ended, with masks being worn by all, and shorted schedules for Jacksonville Middle and High School students. He says it’s a real possibility.

I think what is driving it the most is the success that we had last year. We were one of the few districts in Illinois that made it through the entire year without having a shutdown. I think at most we had three classrooms that had to be quarantined at some point during the year. So we were successful at keeping it at bay within the schools and we want to continue that success.

The way that we did that, is as Mr. Ptacek has laid out is that we stayed in our lane. We are not the medical experts, we don’t make those decisions. We follow the medical experts that do make those decisions.”

Also in attendance at last night’s meeting was Morgan County Health Department Administrator Dale Bainter who was on hand for any questions the Board may have.

Bainter says that he anticipates the upcoming school year will be a
“much more convoluted and difficult year than last year was” when it comes to decisions school boards face this year.

Beard says with IDPH and ISBE pushing the control over mask-wearing and mitigation efforts a little more locally, the board will be relying on Bainter and the Morgan County Health Department for help in making those decisions.

Many of the members acknowledged that things may look very different by August 3rd, as Morgan County is currently on a warning level for COVID positivity and increasing cases of the virus.

Approval of the opening plan for the 2021-22 school year was tabled by the board until the special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, August 3rd at 5:30 pm at the District 117 main office.