On the night of Feb. 16, School District 308 updated masking regulations, as well as its safety plan within the district. This updated plan meant that masks became completely optional for both staff and students throughout the district on Feb. 17, yet due to weather conditions causing an emergency remote day, the new safety plan went into effect on Feb. 18.
The district announced the update to the masking and safety plan in an email to parents and families, and it can also be found on the SD308 website. This update makes masks optional around the district and changes quarantine periods, as well as COVID testing rules.
The change was part of a long plan by the district to reintroduce school practices from before the pandemic. SD308 superintendent Dr. John Sparlin informed 42Fifty during an interview that the decision of going mask-optional was “the goal we’ve always had.”
Amid an uproar in the community due to the temporary restraining order on the masking mandate in schools, District 308 made masking optional. Parents, students, teachers, and other community members expressed their concerns about masks in a passionate and divided board meeting on the second of February.
“As time progresses, as science improves, as we just get more information and knowledge, I think that we’re able to make better decisions and just seeing how this has changed over the last several months,” OHS science teacher Mr. Shon Keener, who was one of the people who commented during the board meeting, said. ”We have the ability to get vaccinated, if that’s your choice, we have the ability to wear masks if that person wants to wear a mask.”
Many students, staff, and parents shared sentiments similar to Keener, with arguments for optional masking being focused on individual rights and research.
“I honestly really care about fairness and I’m aware of all of our rights and all of the amendments that are put in place,” junior Ella Brown said.
On the opposite side, arguments have been made as well, with the uproar causing tension throughout the community, leaving school board members and Dr. Sparlin with a lot to decide. Still, Dr. Sparlin urges that this decision wasn’t motivated by the board meeting’s audience.
These changes, according to the SD308 website, were primarily led by the fact that: vaccines are now widely available at no cost to all persons age 5 and above, testing is free and accessible through the district and community, several therapeutic treatments for COVID are available, and the service area metrics show a dramatic decrease in infections within the district.
Despite making masking optional, the district urges and “strongly suggests” for people in the district buildings to continue wearing masks, and tests. As comfort for students and staff, Assistant Principal Ms. Tania Sharp upheld the importance of safety.
“We communicate with our staff the importance of the following Board of Education policy and creating a safe and inclusive environment for students and one another,” Ms. Sharp said in an email to 42Fifty.
Dr. Sparlin will continue to inform students and staff of changes to the safety plan, which has changed dramatically over the course of this year and last
Some teachers have had issues adjusting to the new change. With mask ideals splitting the school into pro- and anti-mask, teachers are now arbitrators within their own classrooms.
OHS social studies teacher Mr. Aaron Henricks expressed the frustration that many members of the Oswego community are feeling surrounding this situation.
“Who would have thought in 2020 that we would still be dealing with COVID in February/March of 2022?” Henricks said.
Additional reporting by Tori Trevino, Kira Farooqui, and Brady Monahan