CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s weeks away from a new school year as students prepare to head back to class.

And there’s a new COVID controversy: Whether unvaccinated students should be required to mask up.

READ MORE: Judge Bars Chicago Police Union President John Catanzara From Encouraging Officers To Defy City's Vaccine Mandate

While the CDC recommends it, CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reports, ultimately the decision lies with local school boards.

And some have opted to drop mask requirements altogether.

This week, District 200 in Wheaton opted to make masks optional for all students, which didn’t sit well with everyone.

Some parents even rallied outside the superintendent’s office Friday afternoon.

The march to the Community Unit School District 200 building on Friday was prompted by a vote earlier this week to make masks optional.

It’s diverging from the CDC’s recent recommendation that only students and teachers who are fully vaccinated should drop the masks.

“I thought it was a no brainer at the elementary school level. I thought my daughter would be going to school in the first grade and everyone would be wearing a mask in the room.”

District 200 mom Ronak Maisuria.

“It’s not about my family, this is about our community,” added fellow District 200 mom Jessica Banaszek.

They organized some like-minded parents who still plan to mask their children, but worry that won’t be enough to safeguard their health.

“So right now I’m telling you I’m not sending my child back to school on August 23,” said Banaszek. “They have their choice, but their choice takes away the safety of everyone around them.”

The topic is polarizing, to say the least.

My email inbox was flooded with emails from parents who firmly support the district’s decision to make masks optional.

Arguing that the decision should be a personal one, up to each and every family, and tailored to the needs of each student.

One mom said most of her outrage is aimed at Gov. JB Pritzker.

“He can stand up and say ‘I’m going to mandated masks within the state of Illinois for unvaccinated individuals, at least,” said District 200 parent Ronak Maisuria.

 

CBS 2 reached out to Governor Pritzker’s office about the concern.

READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Chilly Tonight, Sunny And Cool Weekend

A spokesperson said they support the CDC guidance. Adding…

“School districts that choose to disregard this guidance not only are putting students and staff at risk, but also taking on extraordinarily expensive liability.”

The district’s superintendent declined CBS 2’s interview request and instead, sent a statement on the decision that was shared with parents.

It listed several additional precautions that will be taken, including three-feet of social distancing and required masks on buses.

Below is the response from Gov. Pritzker’s office:

From the outset of the pandemic, Governor Pritzker’s decisions have been guided by public health officials and science.

Illinois is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which include a recommendation that all unvaccinated individuals wear masks.

School districts that choose to disregard this guidance not only are putting students and staff at risk, but also taking on extraordinarily expensive liability.

Below is the statement from District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler:

District 200 School Community,

In August, all 20 of our schools will be open five days a week. We look forward, to the best of our ability, to a traditional school experience. We are also committed to returning students and staff to school in a safe manner.

Following the recently released updated guidance to schools from the Centers from Disease Control (CDC) and the adoption of that guidance by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), I provided the Board with an update on the upcoming 2021-22 School Year at last night’s Board of Education Meeting. The full presentation update can be found at this link.

The new guidance prioritizes in-person learning; recommends layering mitigations, provides recommendations and gives districts some local control over decisions regarding layered mitigations. As I also shared last night, our local health data in DuPage County continues to be strong. As reported by the DuPage County Health Department, more than 80% of eligible residents in DuPage have received their first dose of vaccine and 98% of residents over the age of 65 have received their first dose. Our local health data is compelling and demonstrates our readiness to move into a new phase of layered mitigation.

After a thorough discussion, the Board of Education accepted our recommendation to continue:

  • Physical distancing at 3 feet
  • At-home COVID-19 symptom monitoring
  • Hand hygiene practices
  • Cleaning and disinfecting practices
  • Adequacy of ventilation and filtration systems
  • Masks required on buses
  • Contact tracing at 3 feet
  • Data monitoring and case reporting
  • Optional COVID-19 testing
  • Sharing information regarding vaccine opportunities for those eligible

Additionally, per the updated guidance, districts do have the local control to remove mitigation strategies based on local conditions. If districts choose to remove mitigations, they should be removed one at a time and monitored closely.

The Board also accepted our recommendation that the first prevention strategy we lift is mandatory mask-wearing at all grade levels, as it offers individuals (both students and staff) and families a choice to continue wearing a face covering should they want to make that choice. Our administrators and staff will ensure that our schools remain safe, caring and respectful learning environments that are supportive of an individual’s choice on mask-wearing. As adults, we have an opportunity to model that behavior for our students.

As we approach the start of the 2021-22 School Year, I recognize that there are still a number of questions our school community may have. We are still working through gathering more information and clarity from our health authorities and I look forward to sharing more information as we near the start of school. While the coming school year will definitely look and feel like a more traditional school year, we must still remain vigilant in following our layered mitigations to keep our students and staff healthy and safe.

I hope that all students, families and staff are taking the time to rest and recharge this summer as we get ready for a brand new school year.

Sincerely,

MORE NEWS: Sky Cruise To 86-50 Win Over Mercury, Take 2-1 Lead In WNBA Finals

Jeff Schuler
Superintendent

Megan Hickey