Hillsboro Schools Will Open Mask-Optional

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Masks will be recommended but not required for non-vaccinated students and staff in the Hillsboro School District when classes begin next month, members of the Hillsboro School Board decided at their Tuesday, July 13, meeting.

"Are we going to recommend masks for non-vaccinated or require masks for non-vaccinated? That's the question that needs to be answered before we make our plan on how school will look this fall," Superintendent David Powell said. "With regard to masks, it is clear that the latest guidance from ISBE (the Illinois State Board of Education) does give authority to the local school board to make decisions whether or not to make masks mandatory. My recommendation is we recommend masks for all students and staff who are not fully vaccinated, but not require it."

Dr. Ben Cady and Dr. Kate Endicott were present to answer medical questions and offer expert opinions.

"Our infection rate in our county is exceptionally low right now," Dr. Cady said.  "We would love it to stay that way, but we don't expect it to stay that way.  Our vaccination rate is not as high as it could be."

Because elementary school age children are not yet eligible for vaccination, he said the medical community recommends requiring masks for students in that age group.

"Above the elementary school, students' families have the option to be vaccinated," he said.  "Younger students do not."

"And with the new variants that are more transmissible, we anticipate rates of transmission could be higher," Dr. Endicott added.

Board member Barbara Adams asked about requirements for confined spaces.  Dr. Cady said that although recommendations do not differentiate, confined spaces are more risky. Powell added that ISBE is requiring masks on school busses.

Board member Nathan Kirby pointed out the possibility of more variants developing due to transmission of the disease.

The first motion–one to require masks for those in grades pre-K through five–failed 3-4: Nathan Kirby, Barbara Adams, and Matt Lentz voted in favor; Bryce Rupert, Kassie Greenwood, Dan Tester, and John Lentz voted against.

John Lentz followed the vote by asking about dirty masks and mask tolerance among small children.  Dr. Cady said a dirty mask is better than no mask, and older age children had much more difficulty tolerating masks.

"If we recommend, there are still some students who will wear a mask," Greenwood said.

Rupert asked about immunity among those who have had the disease.  Dr. Cady said immunity after infection may not be long-lasting, and may not prove effective against a variant.

A second motion, to make masks optional for all students, passed 4-2-1 with Rupert, Greenwood, Tester, and John Lentz voting in favor; Kirby and Adams voted against, and Matt Lentz abstained.  Both Adams and Lentz said they favored requiring masks for pre-K through fifth grade students, as recommended by the medical professionals, but not for students older than that.

Powell said he will work on a school opening plan that recommends masks for non-vaccinated but does not require them, with as much student spacing as possible. His plan will recommend a full school day with no remote learning option except for students in quarantine or who are medically unable to attend classes due to the pandemic.  There was also ample discussion on the role of testing next school year.  

The board set a special meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 28, to firm up the back-to-school plan.

Board members approved using Elementary and Secondary School Emergence Relief (ESSER) funds to purchase four new busses for a total of $401,352.  District transportation director Adam Gregg said the low bidders was Bluebird for 77-passenger gasoline engine busses.

Tester asked if the busses could be sold at auction instead of traded.  Powell will check with an auctioneer to see what they could possibly bring.

The board also gave Gregg the authority to procure monthly fuel bids for the upcoming school year.

During the portion of the meeting set aside for public comments, Heather Lessman reintroduced the idea of junior high baseball and softball in the school district.  The last time it came before the board, the request was to co-op with other schools.  Lessman's request was for the district to consider taking on the sport itself.

"In the past it's been turned down multiple times, and I don't know why," she said.  "I know funding is always an issue, but sports aren't just about sports."

She offered to furnish research she had done about the cost of initiating a junior high program. The superintendent said he would meet with the junior high principal to come up with a concrete proposal with costs.

Near the beginning of the meeting, Curriculum Director Hope McBrain said she had met earlier in the day with about 25 district staff who are part of the new, revamped mentoring program.

She also reported that sixth grade social studies teacher Dave Mattson was one of 21 teachers in the Midwest selected for continuing education this week at Lincoln Museum in Springfield.

After a closed session, the board accepted resignations from Christian Burnet, Kenny White, and Chad Zimmerman as basketball coaches and from Ron Deabenderfer as high school football, boys basketball, and baseball scorekeeper and statistician.  They also accepted resignations from Rich Stewart as part-time building trades teacher, Tony Marcolini as part-time industrial arts teacher, and Christian Burnet as elementary PE teacher.

They also hired Kyle McBrain as boys basketball coach, hired Zach Reed as elementary PE teacher and boys track coach, re-hired Jessica Furness as junior high cheerleading coach and approved Elissa Leek as her volunteer assistant, approved Rick Vogel as volunteer assistant golf coach, hired Daniel Drake as assistant operetta director, hired Joe Reed as student resource coordinator and part-time PE teacher, hired Aaron Schultz as industrial arts teacher, hired Drew Benning, Carla Bolton, Patti Marsee, and Halle Vunetich as teachers’ aides, and hired Jeremy Connor, Corbin Govaia, Roger Fath, Zach Reed and Bill Reed as assistant football coaches.

The board also set a new salary for the district human resources director.

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