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McLean County Schools Shift As Pritzker Issues Mask Mandate

Heyworth Hornets sign
WGLT file photo
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Heyworth schools had planned to make masks optional before Gov. JB Pritzker issued a universal mask mandate for schools on Wednesday.

Several McLean County school districts planned to make masks optional this year, before Gov. JB Pritzker make them mandatory on Wednesday.

Pritzker announced all schools and long-term care facilities will require universal masking. The governor cited surges in coronavirus cases and concerns about the highly contagious Delta variant.

Heyworth school superintendent Lisa Taylor said some parents pushed back against mask mandates, but she expects students will adapt.

“Although they were not strongly in favor of masking children, they are generally very supportive. When we ask our parents to cooperate, they are very cooperative,” Taylor said Tuesday when the school district had planned to make masks optional ahead of an Aug. 18 school board vote.

“I don’t anticipate major resistance if that is a mitigation that has to be in place.”

Taylor said her district saw minimal COVID-19 spread last year when nearly all students learned in-person. She said she believes students and teachers can socially distance in classrooms, adding the school district saw a sharp increase in student hospitalizations for mental health.

“I’m not attributing that all to the masks, but I think anxiety, fear (were aggravated),” Taylor said. “(We are) trying to balance that risk as a board and as a parent, physical heath, mental health, academics. That’s what we are trying to do.”

Taylor said the Heyworth district had about 10 families home school last year because they did not want their children wearing masks and didn't want remote learning.

Catholic schools

All Catholic schools within the Diocese of Peoria also planned to be mask optional prior to the governor’s mandate.

Sean Foster, principal of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, said the Catholic Diocese of Peoria called for parents to decide if their children should mask up.

“We definitely believe that parents are the primary educators of their children and the place for making those kind of decisions, whenever possible, should be left with the parents,” Foster said.

Foster said Central Catholic also has to prepare for remote learning, in case the state makes that an option again this year.

“This last year if we learned anything, it is we have to be extremely flexible and always willing to adjust,” Foster said. “Entering into a new school year, that’s exactly what we are willing to do.”

Currently, only students with a medical exemption can learn online this year.

District 87 in Bloomington had scheduled a special meeting on Wednesday for the school board to consider a mask requirement. The school board canceled the meeting following the governor’s mask mandate announcement.

Unit 5 adopted its own mask mandate last week.

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