Difficult decisions are made as masks become optional

On February 9, 2022, D127 administration sent out an e-mail stating that, starting the following school day, students and staff would “be encouraged but not required to wear a mask.”
This was in response to new conversations about masks in schools being restarted throughout the area following a court case in downstate Illinois that ruled on the issue of making masks optional in public schools.

“First of all, definitely not how I would like to make decisions or how I would have liked it to roll out. This is unprecedented. There is no playbook for any of this. We are figuring it out and doing the best we can. I am open to any criticism or compliments. That is fine. This is tough stuff,” said Superintendent Mikkel Storaasli.

D127 administration members and staff felt pressure from students and parents to make a decision. Many students began to voice their opinions about being required to wear a mask. A group of students started developing a protest against mask wearing that led to an e-learning day for students and staff members. This highlighted the level of seriousness that the students had while wanting to get rid of the mask mandate in school.

“There have been protests that the school has been involved with, but the difference here is that we had time to plan. Student groups worked with us and local law enforcement. We were not sure if there were going to be adults from outside the district involved. If I can’t put my staff in a place to succeed, I need to rethink it, and I want my students to be safe too,” Storaasli said.

The protest never took place, but the decision to lift the mandate was a quick response to the people’s desires. There was a lot of feedback, especially from students, about how they feel toward the new policies.

“I think I was really mad because I feel like even if you don’t agree with it and you don’t want to wear a mask, it is one of the easiest things to do and pretty harmless. It’s also just disrespectful to people who lost their lives and to people who lost family and loved ones. Also, I think we should follow the CDC director because I think he knows what he is talking about, and he said that now is not the time to unmask,” said junior Bekah Monciviaz.

Many students are feeling worried about the safety of others, the possibility of rising COVID-19 cases, and whether or not the decision was rushed into.
On the other hand, another group of students feel that this is the right time to unmask.

“Overall with the mask mandate being lifted in our building at Grayslake North, I feel as if it is time. It has been almost two years with being in masks and having to cover up due the rapid spread of COVID-19. I feel as if we should be able to have it be our decision if we want to continue to wear one or not wear one. I feel everyone at our age level is responsible enough to know if they should wear one or not,” said junior Kylie Poterek.

Although there are concerns with the recent update, Storaasli stresses that he is confident in the new changes.

“Where I see the data has come, where we are at in our school, and the vaccination rates, I feel that it is a safe option. Do I trust that our students and staff are going to be respectful and live with each other so we can stay safe? Am I confident in that? Yes, I am,” Storaasli said.

He shared to the community that District 127 has 96 percent of its staff fully vaccinated and 75 percent of their students fully vaccinated as well. The district also spent time and money updating the air filtration systems and disinfection systems.

With all of these positive factors in mind, there is still unpredictability for the future of mask wearing in schools. Storaasli stressed that for now, the district will remain dedicated to keeping this new mask policy in action for as long as they can. Daily updates about the number of COVID-19 cases in District 127 are updated online by Storaasli.