Illinois School Board Adjourns Meeting amid Fierce Debate Over Masking

POLITICS & POLICY
Lake Forest School District 115 school board meeting, September 13, 2021. (Screengrab via LFHS Info/YouTube)

Members of an Illinois school board voted unanimously on Monday night to adjourn a meeting of the board until a later date after a community member refused to wear a mask during a heated public-comment portion of the meeting. 

More than a dozen community members spoke out at the Lake Forest School District 115 meeting on Monday night, urging the school to go against Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s school mask mandate.

After one woman stood up to speak out against the mandate and ignored the board president’s request to wear a mask, the board unanimously voted to take a short recess. The board voted to take the recess and left the room as the woman continued speaking.

As the board exited the room, other attendees also defiantly ripped their masks off. (Public comments in the video below start at the 1:07:07 timestamp.)

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When the board returned minutes later, the room had largely cleared out. Several more people spoke before another attendee began to address the board and similarly refused to wear a mask, leading the board to unanimously vote to reconvene the meeting later this week. 

As the woman shouted remarks, board president Jenny Zinser moved to recess the meeting to Thursday to consider the remaining items on the agenda, adding that the meeting would probably be held virtually. The board unanimously agreed to move the meeting. 

Tensions were running high at the meeting as parents urged the school-board members to do as at least 58 other Illinois school districts have done and vote to make masks optional. The governor has given those districts’ administrators an ultimatum: require masking in schools or forfeit state recognition, funding, sports participation, and the college prospects of seniors.

While Pritzker first said in July that he believed masking and COVID-19 protocols should be left up to local school leaders, he did an about-face on August 4 when he announced that he would require all students, staff, and visitors in Illinois private and public schools to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prescription for keeping students and staff safe,” Pritzker said. “Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”

However, of 17 studies cited by the CDC as evidence that student masking is effective, not one study looked at student mask use in isolation from other mitigation measures, or against a control, according to an analysis by New York MagazineSome of the studies showed that the absence of masks correlated with low transmission in students.

The CDC’s own report from the 2020–2021 school year admitted that there was not a statistically significant difference in infection rates between schools that mandated masks for students and those that made usage optional. 

Meanwhile, mask mandates for students come at a significant cost to students’ learning outcomes, mental health, and social development. And data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that, as of September 2, seven states have seen no child deaths related to COVID-19, and that of the 45 states that provided data to the AAP, “0.00 percent–0.03 percent of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death.”

Community members questioned why the board has chosen to blindly follow the governor’s mask mandate without any pushback or questioning.

A heated exchange occurred earlier in the meeting between the board and Joe Severino, a Lake Forest resident and 2022 Republican candidate for Illinois’s tenth congressional district.

Severino asked the board to read a disclaimer on a box of masks. “It says mask don’t work, so why are you forcing students to wear something —”

The board president then interrupted to “remind you of the fact that all of those speaking are expected to act with respect and civility.”

“That would include not interrupting me when I do speak,” Severino shot back. 

Zinser started to speak, but Severino interrupted to say, “Masks do not work.”

“Masks do not work, please don’t interrupt me. I’m on a time limit here. I’m asking every person sitting on this board to step down, and if not, I’m going to personally organize a recall,” he said to the applause of those in attendance.

“Our kids come to school with their morals intact, and they should come home with them,” he later added. “You’re indoctrinating kids and the behavior of this board — and the behavior of this board is appalling.”

Later, a mother of three children — only one of whom remains in the district after COVID — asked the board members, “what are we doing?”

“The hospitalization rate is between 1 and 5 percent,” she said. “Do you guys know this? Do you even know these facts? I mean what is it going to take? Is it going to take one case per 100,000? Is it going to take a hospitalization of negative 1?”

“What are you guys doing to push back on this? What are you doing? A mandate is not a law,” she said.

She noted that Zinser had said earlier in the meeting that students’ happiness is the most important. Her 8-year-old, she said, goes to school outside of the district and thought that the best part of her first day of school was when she was allowed to take off her mask at lunch and recess and she could see her friends’ faces.

“That’s what makes them happy, so if it’s the most important, what are you doing about it?” she asked. “What are you doing about these masks? I want to know, this room wants to know. Is anyone pushing back on the Lake County Health Department? Is anyone calling them everyday saying, ‘When can we take the masks off the kids?’ Does anyone have a plan, or are you just sitting there like sheep?” 

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

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