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Parents Concerned As Dunlap Says Masks Optional In Upcoming School Year

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Dunlap parents are voicing their concerns over a return-to-school plan that does not require masks for students.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Dearman reviewed a revised plan at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday night that makes masks optional and requires students to learn in-person with minimal exceptions.

The initial plan approved by the board indicated that Dunlap would offer remote learning options for “medically fragile” students, but State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala announced earlier this month that all students must attend in-person except for those who are “ineligible for a vaccine and are under quarantine order by a local health department.”

However, per the board’s original approval, Dearman still intends to offer a remote option for those who require it.

“We had talked about, for students that are quarantined, that we would provide them some live instruction,” said Dearman. “I would still like to do that because, at the end of the day, we are an educational institution and we need to provide the best educational opportunities for our students possible.”

When it comes to masks, Dearman said making them optional is fully in line with guidance from the CDC, Illinois Department of Health, and Illinois State Board of Education.

“Our governor has referenced local control, and this is a locally-elected school board,” said Dearman. “I see (mask mandates) as certainly something that designates local control.”

Dearman also mentioned a recent conversation with Monica Hendrickson of the Peoria City/County Health Department in which Hendrickson reported that 93% of eligible residents in the 61525 ZIP code have been fully vaccinated.

A number of parents spoke at the meeting expressing their concern over the plan and the lack of a mask mandate. A brief, tense exchange between one commenter and board member Mike Wisdom occurred after the commenter felt decisions regarding COVID-19 were made behind closed doors. Later in the meeting, Wisdom referenced the exchange and said the board is in a “no-win situation.”

“On both sides of (the mask) issue, we appreciate you coming out and sharing your heartfelt feelings about it. Whether you understand it or not, we hear you,” said Wisdom. “We don’t do this for political or personal reasons—we’re doing what we think is best for the kids.”

Also included in the revised plan are new mitigation protocols in the event COVID positivity rates begin to increase, though Dearman emphasized they are subject to change, especially with the recent spread of the Delta variant.

“I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time debating and formulating a plan when if we’ve learned anything in the last year and a half, it’s going to change,” said Dearman. “Those tier mitigations are a template and they’re open for discussion, but it’s a place to start.”

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Updated: July 23, 2021 at 12:22 PM CDT
The update provides additional context. 93% of ELIGIBLE residents in the 61525 ZIP code have been fully vaccinated.
Mike Rundle is a correspondent at WCBU. He joined the station in 2020.