AT adapts as mask mandate is blocked

As Covid cases across the nation decline, the mask mandate and quarantine orders for schools in Illinois are revisited, generating immediate response from all affected AT parties. 

The change was birthed from the gavel of Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow on Feb 4, halting the enforcement of the Covid policy set by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.

While the decision brought disagreement to Pritzker’s office, school administrators across the state were left to call emergency meetings, make new decisions, and address the opinions of thousands.

“The information came up so quickly, and at 5:30 pm on Friday, the temporary restraining order came out. Late Friday night, we had a lot going on at AT and had to limit our interaction regarding masks. Late Saturday, Barbanente called for an emergency board meeting at 4 o’clock on Sunday,” said Andrews.

On Mon. Feb 6, Andrews announced that the mask mandate will no longer be enforced and followed the announcement with a statistic of the number of Covid cases in District 88: 1. 

“One out of 4700 people inside of our district provides a level of comfort. There is a level of transparency,” said Andrews. 

District 88 affirms vaccination rates in Dupage County for residents of the age of 18 and under: 92.6% are vaccinated with 1 dose while 59.6% are fully vaccinated with a booster.

Students can still be asked to wear a mask, but the staff’s ability to provide consequences for refusal is now compromised. 

The recent decision additionally responds to quarantine policy. The state has seen rapid changes from Chicago Public Schools shortening their quarantine period to 5 days, to the recent outlaw of close contact quarantine cases.

Under previous policy, any unvaccinated person must be quarantined if they are within close contact of any person who tests positive for Covid, regardless of whether they demonstrate symptoms. 

Under recently implemented policy, no person can be quarantined unless they test positive or demonstrate Covid symptoms.

To mitigate the risk of transmission, AT has implemented temperature screenings at student entrances.

“The CDC doesn’t recommend daily universal temperature screenings. With the changing procedures, there are different communication methods with students reporting sick,” said Andrews.

While these screenings propose a barrier to Covid transmission, the effectiveness of masks is not fully conceded as roughly 85% of students still wear masks.

Masks are still mandated on federal vehicles like school buses.

“Students must wear masks on all District 88 transportation (masking on district vehicles is federally mandated),” said Barbanente.

All staff still wear masks regardless of information imposed on students.

“All staff are part of different labor groups, and we have agreements with each one of those labor groups that state they are supposed to wear masks. The only ones that aren’t a part of those labor groups are a few random people like our deans, our administration, our cafeteria workers. We don’t have a written agreement that requires them to wear masks, but we are all choosing to,” said Andrews.

The divide between the 85% of students who choose to wear masks compared to the 15% who do not has created an environment of controversy, creating a diversity of opinions within the student body. 

AT senior Madelyn Ford shares her reasoning for choosing not to wear a mask. “In my opinion, I think that not having to wear a mask in school should be offered at this point. Significant statistical tests have shown that masks are ineffective, and I also personally feel that being a citizen of this country gives me the right to have the freedom of choice of whether I get to wear one or not.

I also think that in school, we are taught to be critical thinkers and question what we are told. I think that it’s unfortunate that people haven’t applied that knowledge and just belligerently believed what they’ve been told. That’s why I’m choosing not to wear a mask,” said Ford.

Senior Michal Niemirski describes his belief that everyone should continue to wear a mask. “I’m fully vaccinated and even boosted, but I still wear my mask because we’re not yet out of the woods. Is it as bad as a few weeks ago? Of course not. Is it as good as last summer? Of course not. I think it’s best to listen to those whose area of expertise this is. If public health experts say it’s safe enough to stop wearing them, I’ll give in. Until then, I think everyone should still be wearing them.”

Senior Chris Flores notes his reasoning for continuing to wear a mask despite the lack of a mandate. “I choose to wear a mask because Covid still exists, and I don’t want to pass it onto my family or people who are vulnerable. Masks are effective; even if just a little, it’s better than not wearing it at all. There’s no downside to wearing a mask, so if there’s even a chance it helps, I’d rather wear it than not,” said Flores.

Aware of this controversy, Andrews, on behalf of AT staff, reiterates that all students are welcome at AT regardless of whether they choose to wear a mask or not. 

“There was a post from another superintendent stating that ‘If you wear a mask to school tomorrow, we welcome you, and we love you. If you choose not to wear a mask, we welcome you, and we love you, ‘” said Andrews.

The Illinois Attorney General has filed a motion to stay and has released plans to appeal the decision in Springfield. 

AT Administration answers rising questions regarding whether the mandate will be reinforced if the appeal goes through.

“If the verdict stands, then we will have the situation we have now, which is mask-optional. So, we will see in two weeks; hopefully, we have some clarity there. But, we will keep this operation going until further notice,” said Barbanente.

Andrews agrees, confirming the conversation in administration will continue with the addition of further information. “If there was something to flip and our ability to enforce masks returns, we’ll look at it. It’s going to be a conversation. It may be out of our hands.”

Covid policy now rests in the arms of lawmakers and public health officials. Despite another step closer toward the return to normalcy, the Covid conversation at AT continues.

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