Dueling petitions fuel school mask debate in Hinsdale District 181; District 89 will require masks

Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Dueling petitions fuel school mask debate in Hinsdale District 181
An online petition to mandate in-class masking for students K-8 in Hinsdale School District 181 is gathering steam.

HINSDALE, Ill. (WLS) -- An online petition to mandate in-class masking for students K-8 in Hinsdale School District 181 is gathering steam.

It's being led by parents who don't want their kids missing in-class instruction, and asks the district board to treat the Delta variant as a threat like no other.

SEE ALSO | Fauci warns 'things are going to get worse' with COVID

"The vast majority of kids in our district aren't even eligible for the vaccine, so to say that I can protect my kids with the vaccine just isn't true," said Dr. Atul Gupta, who is medical director of infection prevention at Silver Cross Hospital and a concerned parent of two children in District 181. "If we are going to have full-time, in-person schooling and the students are all masked, we won't have these frequent 10 to 14-day quarantines."

Nearby, a heated meeting with the school board heard parents frustrated with changing guidance.

After a passionate meeting with the public, District 89 voted Monday night to make masks mandatory in schools in the fall, regardless of age or vaccination status.

"I feel like it's very unfair. At this point parents know best," said Meredith Darbyshire, whose two children both go to school in the district.

"I think what's best for them is five days a week in school and if that means putting a mask on and letting them get through school and enjoying socialization and learning with their friends, I'd like to do that," said Deanna Killackey, mother of two District 89 students.

"Everyone in this room cares for their kids," said another father attending a community meeting Monday night. "I just think we need to put these types of decisions back in parental hands."

But the new CDC guidance could not be clearer.

"Everyone who is was in K through 12 school in the fall should be masked," said CDC Director DR. Rochelle Walensky. "Everyone across the country, adults, children, vaccinated or unvaccinated, everyone should be masked."

The CDC said masked children who are spaced three feet apart won't have to quarantine if a classmate comes down with the virus that, now with the Delta variant, is transmitted as easily as chicken pox.

According to public health data, 66% of eligible people in DuPage County are fully vaccinated, and nearly 50% of eligible school children over 12 years old are fully vaccinated as well. That's another sticking point for some parents.

"I didn't want to get my children vaccinated, but I did. I got my child who was eligible vaccinated," said Darbyshire. "This was the metric we had to meet in order to be able to move this forward. We did what we had to do and now they're changing the tune on us again."

"I feel like it's been very clear that masks are recommended across the states right now, so I think it's going to be hard for individual districts to make a decision otherwise," Killackey said.

SEE ALSO | What we know about the delta variant of COVID-19 following new CDC report

The Chicago region is under the CDC 's indoor mask guidance for all given "substantial" community transmission of coronavirus. But another petition seeks to keep personal choice the priority.

"There has just been enough data now that we know that this age group - the elementary and junior high kids - there's not a threat of them dying, thank God. They're not even really getting sick from the virus," said Bill Jaqua, another concerned District 181 parent who is against a mask mandate. "Kids, they need to take the masks off so they can see their teacher smile, see their friends smile. They gotta get back to playing in the school and we just hope that this can be done this year with a normal school year."

"An average of 35 kids a day are being hospitalized in Florida. This is not what we saw with previous variants of COVID. This is new, this Delta variant is actually worse," Gupta said. "On top of that, we're getting new information all the time not about deaths, but about the long-term effects of COVID in children: memory loss, fatigue, other serious problems. People are being hospitalized with this inflammatory syndrome. It's very serious, so focusing on deaths is not the whole picture, and it's not adequate to make an informed decision about masking."

Following the meeting, District 89 voted to reinstate the mask mandate for everyone in schools, adults and children, regardless of vaccination status.

A District 181 spokesperson said Monday that no decisions on mask mandates have been made yet as the dueling petitions grow on Facebook. Currently, the petition in favor of a mask mandate has hundreds of signatures, while the petition in favor of optional masks has significantly less.