Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the statewide mask mandate for most indoor public spaces will be lifted at the end of this month – with one exception. Pritzker says despite the ongoing court challenge to the school mask mandate, it will remain in place for the time being, leaving some parents relieved and others outraged.
CPS parent Nolberto Casas has been a vocal advocate for returning children to in-person learning throughout the last year. He believes while older children could be given a choice in whether to keep masking, younger children should keep them on for the time being.
“It’s kind of ironic because a month ago we were talking about, should we reopen schools now? It seems that debate has been settled, now, it’s mask or not mask. I’m of the opinion that if you’re old enough to try to make decisions of your future … you’re old enough to choose if you’re going to wear your mask or not. I’m of the opinion that elementary aged children should continue to be masked until beginning of May.”
“We fought so hard to get the schools open for in person,” Casas continued. “If putting on a mask is going to make the teachers feel comfortable, I’m okay with that.”
Andrea Corona, whose daughter attends a Catholic school, attributes concerns about children’s mental health to masking.
“We really need to start focusing on the health of our forthcoming generation and not expect them to be responsible for our health,” said Corona.
“I think it’s valid for people to be concerned. But I think we need to just remember that this is about the children first. The children need to be comfortable,” Corona said. “They need to see each others faces. They need to see their teachers’ faces. We can’t stay in a situation where we have kids that have never been in a day of school without a mask on. We need to get to normalcy for them, not them staying in this state for us.”
Elisa Lee, who has one child in a Catholic school and three children in CPS schools, said her children have struggled with mask wearing.
“The teachers let me know that they’re less vocal or they’re less called upon because they cannot read their facial expressions and my sons do get frustrated,” said Lee. “I have an 18-year-old that’s about to graduate this year. And you know, she has also minimized her participation because of just not knowing if the teacher knows that she wants to say something or not, or others want to speak or not.”
Lee said she does not yet feel it’s totally safe to attend school without masks, but hopes other mitigations can be kept in place, like social distancing and improved ventilation.
CPS parent and teacher Melanie Lopez said she sympathizes with those who are tired of masking but believes the risk of spread still outweighs that fatigue.
“I work with children with special needs and they don’t always get the concept of ‘if I’m sick, I don’t come to school’ or ‘if I am sick, I keep my distance.’ … We have to fight with them to keep their mask on throughout the day … So this is stuff that we’ve been fighting to train them for all this time and now that we have it, we’re going to take it away. And so I’m a little concerned about the spread that then we could leave here at our school.”
“We’re not just talking about the kids inside the school. They go home and they have family members that they spread this to,” Lopez said. “They — some of them have family members that they spread to that are in delicate situations of health. So this isn’t just about the teachers. This is about everybody.”