Watch now: Bloomington District 87 hears concern about masks plan | Native Schooling
Bent Elementary parent Mark Weaver talks to the Bloomington District 87 school board at its Feb. 9 meeting.
BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington District 87 heard from members of the public regarding its continued enforcement of the mask mandate in school buildings.
The district has held to the mandates despite a ruling last week by a Sangamon County judge. District 87 was not a party to the lawsuit so says the ruling does not apply to it, while many other districts in the state, including within McLean County, have decided to respind their mandates.
The first speaker, and one who has not been at recent meeting, was Mark Walker. He has two daughters, both of whom attend Bent Elementary. He said that one of this daughters has been attempting to attend school without a mask and has been either sent home or isolated in a principal’s office when she tries to do so.
“I understand your hands were tied before, but this court ruling means you can stop enforcing these illegal mandates (…) tonight,” he said. “It is disappointing to see you are choosing to ignore and interpret the ruling differently than the majority of schools in our county.”
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He encouraged District 87 to follow the majority of districts in the county and stop enforcing the mandate. District 87, McLean County Unit 5 and Illinois State Laboratory Schools have all told The Pantagraph they intend to continue enforcing the mandate.
After the meeting, District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said that there had been a few instances of students not wearing masks, but they were few in number compared to the overall enrollment of the school. He hopes that an appeal to the judge’s ruling, which was filed by the Illinois’ Attorney General’s office, will provide a clear answer on the mandates for all schools in the state, not just those named in the initial lawsuit.
On Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker announced he planned to lift most of the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28. However, he plans to keep it in place in schools pending the appeal decision.
Nick Riordan speaks to the Bloomington District 87 school board at its Feb. 9 meeting, opposing the districts continued enforcement of mask mandates.
On the topic of masks, the board also heard from Dusty Carey and Nick Riordan. Carey, an employee of the district who works with special needs students, talked about the difficulties students with hearing disabilities have with learning while those around them are wearing masks. It is important for these students that they can see their teacher’s mouths to be able to read lips.
Riordan also encouraged the board to eliminate the district’s COVID mandates.
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“By all means, this should be an individual choice between a person and their doctor,” he said.
In his report, Reilly said that staffing continues to be a struggle for the district but things are showing signs of improvement. Earlier in the semester the district was seeing around 100 teacher absences a day. On Wednesday that was down below 60.
The lack of substitutes is also felt. Around 70% of classes with absent teachers were covered by a substitute on Wednesday, he said. Earlier in the semester that number had been below 50%. When substitutes are not available, often other teachers are the ones who cover the class, cutting into their planning time.
“While that’s promising, that’s still a lot of classes that teachers are covering,” he said.
In its actions, the board approved a new math curriculum for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Illustrative Mathematics, from the Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, provides materials in both English and Spanish and meets other district requirements for standards and technology.
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The change will require $149,000 this spring in start-up costs, including purchasing teacher guides, manuals, student journals and the other tools and teaching aides. Purchasing the yearly required materials will cost around $60,000 a year going forward.
The Board also approved its annual letter of understanding with the Bloomington Education Association on any end of school year reduction in force.
The 2022-2023 school year will start on Aug. 18 for District 87 students, with classes scheduled to end May 25, 2023. There are five emergency days includes after the end of classes, should the district need to close during an instruction day.
District 87 will have to use four emergency days this year, pushing the last day for students back to June 1.
Reaction to Illinois dropping mask rule
Gary Rabine, GOP governor candidate
“Illinois kids and parents go into day five of JB Pritzker’s mask mandate mess. Today, he will compound the chaos by beginning to lift the mandates for the general public but keep it in place for schools. Other states, including those with Democratic Governors, have figured this out. But when politics, not people, are your main concern as Governor, this is what happens. COVID chaos and a crime epidemic are Pritzker’s legacy. It’s time to take our state back.”
ROB STROUD, JOURNAL GAZETTE & TIMES-COURIER
Contact Connor Wood at (309)820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood
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