There is a big divide among parents in IL (and nationally) over mask mandates. With the Delta variant surging, the CDC has recommended that all students and school employees wear masks this fall as part of a combination of strategies to combat the spread of COVID-19. This has enraged certain groups of parents who are showing up at school board meetings claiming it’s a matter of freedom, personal choice and even privacy whether their child wears a mask.
We have heard from parents on both sides of the issue and to make it clear, we at IL-FPS believe strongly in following guidance from public health experts and agencies, especially during a global pandemic that has killed over 600,000 people in this country. The covid vaccine is not yet available to children under 12 years of age, and the delta variant is highly contagious. 72,000 cases of covid were diagnosed in US children last week; up from 39,000 the week before.
Non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks are still crucial in schools. Those who don’t want to wear a mask and claim it’s their choice should not have the freedom to transmit the virus to their peers in school and into the surrounding communities.
Today Governor Pritzker is announcing a mask mandate for IL schools, and we are relieved to hear it.
WBEZ: Sources: Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker To Announce Statewide School Mask Mandate
Earlier this week ISBE put out new guidance recommending that all students wear masks, and while that wasn’t a mandate, they did inform districts that they should contact their insurers if they don’t follow the recommendations, as schools that don’t comply might not be covered for any related liabilities.
In some suburban Chicago communities, parents have been organizing in support of a mask mandate.
Daily Herald: Parents rally for school mask mandate in Aurora
ABC 7: Dueling petitions fuel school mask debate in Hinsdale District 181; District 89 will require masks
Daily Herald: 'We have the science behind us': Why Warrenville mom urges mask-wearing in schools
The Governor’s announcement will likely not be the end of anti-mask sentiment. And continued organizing is going to be needed from parents who get that wearing a mask isn’t about losing your freedom, it’s about protecting a public good, namely the health of a whole school community during a pandemic that has not yet ended.
Health measures beyond masking
Decreasing class size and improving school HVAC systems are also important respiratory disease mitigation measures. These are much more costly than masks, but more than $7 billion in additional funding is available for IL school districts through federal recovery ESSER dollars (find your district’s allocations here), and those funds can be used for staffing and facility repairs and improvements.
Another $20B for school facilities nationwide is still up in the air in negotiations over infrastructure funding in DC.
Ed Week: School Infrastructure Funding in Flux as Senators Advance Package Funding Electric Buses
In New York City, there’s a proposed ordinance to limit class sizes to be phased in over the next few years.
Chalkbeat New York: Teachers union, city council members propose limiting students allowed in NYC classrooms as COVID looms
Pre-pandemic, Illinois schools were almost $7B short of being adequately funded given the needs of their student population. So the federal recovery dollars really only brings our school budgets to where they should be under normal operating conditions, not a pandemic! Note that these federal dollars are only temporary, not a permanent fix to our underfunding of public schools in IL.
If you are wondering how big your child’s classes will be this year, IL schools are now required to publish very detailed class size data by November 16th every year under Public Act 101-0451, class size transparency law, an initiative of IL Families for Public Schools passed in 2019. You can ask your child’s school for this information. Most schools keep this information and much additional data frequently updated with the IL State Board of Education via a database called Ed360, and they may be able to provide it earlier in the school year than November.
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