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Decision Time Nears For Unit 5, District 87 On Masks For Fall

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School districts are finalizing mask policies as the fall term approaches.

A group of Bloomington-Normal pediatricians is calling for universal masking in schools for the fall term. Six doctors from Bloomington Pediatrics sent a letter to several school districts, including Unit 5 and District 87.

"If schools do not continue with universal masking, COVID-19 school outbreaks are inevitable, leading to increased illness in the community and significant disruption to a cohesive learning environment," wrote the doctors.

District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said the letter is one data point, along with teachers union, public health, and other stakeholder input.

"That information has been shared with the board of education. So, as we are finalizing things to make that decision and get that written information out to our community, which we anticipate soon, they can factor that into the decision-making," said Reilly.

Reilly said the district anticipates having the policy out by the end of the week. He said Bloomington schools will not make this a board decision, though board members are part of the internal dialogue.

"There are varying degrees of opinion and thought as to what the best thing to do is when it comes to masking specifically," said Reilly.

Unit 5 has a special school board meeting on Wednesday. Tri-Valley in Downs has yet to publicize a decision. Olympia and Heyworth decided last week to make masks optional.

The Illinois State University Lab Schools have imposed a mask requirement for younger children.

"U-High will be mask-optional for those who are vaccinated. Metcalf will require masks for everyone since the majority of their population is not yet vaccinated. We will still follow appropriate cleaning and handwashing guidelines, and we will physically distance as much as possible," wrote Lab Schools Acting Director and ISU Associate Dean of Education Barbara Meyer in an email to parents.

The physicians said in their letter that the benefits of in-person learning are only as good as the ability to keep schools in the community open. Without masking, the doctors said, outbreaks are inevitable.

"Universal masking must be required until the majority of students, teachers, and staff are vaccinated for the coronavirus and local metrics are within an acceptable range," said the pediatricians.

Masks may be a high-profile decision point for districts, but it is not the only one.

"There's not a lot of talk about all the other safety mitigations in place and we have quite a few," said Reilly.

Those measures include, but are not limited to, touch-less water fountains with bottle filling stations, electrostatic disinfecting machines for classrooms, hand sanitizers, protocols for nightly cleaning, and acrylic barriers in many classrooms and at times during lunch periods.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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