BBCHS school return

Mask and social-distancing reminders lined the entrance and hallways of Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School last school year. As the return to school nears, many schools have been urgently asking the state for updated guidance regarding COVID.

BRADLEY — Concerns over a letter emailed to Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School parents Monday afternoon relaying updated CDC guidance for schools prompted discussion and calls for clarification from some District 307 School Board members during their Monday meeting.

A letter from the district’s newly elected Superintendent Matt Vosberg stated that the district would be adopting the CDC’s latest guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 schools, which was released Friday.

Highlights of the new CDC guidance include that masks are no longer required for vaccinated individuals, but that they should be worn indoors by all individuals not fully vaccinated; 3 feet of physical distancing should be implemented when possible, and the safe return to in-person learning should be prioritized.

Also on Friday, the Illinois Department of Public Health said it would be adopting the CDC’s latest guidance. The Illinois State Board of Education has not issued any more specific guidance, but its website directs visitors to the latest CDC and IDPH guidance and notes that, “The guidance takes effect immediately for all Illinois schools, public and nonpublic.”

“This information came as a relief as we have been anticipating this announcement to begin planning for the upcoming school year,” Vosberg stated in his letter to parents.

He also stated in the letter that district leadership teams would “continue to meet to determine specifics about the upcoming school year,” and that, while vaccination is currently not a requirement to attend school, “we believe that vaccination is currently the most effective way to keep everyone safe.”

A couple of parents raised concerns during the public comment section of Monday’s meeting about the content and timing of the letter, which was emailed at around 3 p.m. The board meeting started at 7 p.m.

One parent said that she believes masking should be optional for students in the upcoming school year regardless of their vaccination status.

Another parent said she was caught off guard by the letter, as she assumed the school’s mask policy would be discussed during the meeting.

A resolution previously on the agenda for Monday’s meeting would have urged Gov. JB Pritzker and state officials to clarify guidance and allow school districts local control over COVID-19 decisions.

This item was removed from the agenda some time during the day Monday.

Board President Justin Caldwell said it was removed in light of the guidance that came out unexpectedly Friday; the resolution was not intended as a discussion item for back-to-school plans for the fall, he added.

Board member Todd Kuntz said that he was “blindsided” by the letter and received phone calls from “very upset parents.”

Kuntz said that, although the board voted last year to give the administration authority to implement COVID-19 policy without board approval, there should be more discussion prior to the start of the new school year.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “I’m mad. I’m very mad that this is how I found out [about the mask policy] right before the meeting.”

Vosberg apologized to the board for not communicating what was sent out to parents prior to the meeting. He said the school had gotten several calls Monday morning asking about the guidance that came out Friday.

“Those new [CDC/IDPH] recommendations allow students who have been vaccinated not to wear masks, and we felt we wanted to communicate that to families as we were getting questions,” he said.

Vosberg said he and school administrators are just starting to have conversations about a reopening plan for the 2021-22 school year, and that those conversations would continue, taking CDC guidance into consideration as well as “leaning heavily” on local health department advice.

Vosberg just recently started as superintendent July 1.

“I think there was a presumption — and it wasn’t intended — that [the letter] is the reopening plan. It’s not the reopening plan,” he clarified after Monday’s meeting. “We still have work to do. We do have students in the building right now, and currently all students in the building wear masks. The new guidance allows students who have been vaccinated not to wear masks. That’s the biggest change for right now.”

Board members asked for the administration’s recommendation for a 2021-22 reopening plan to be presented during their next meeting, which will be Aug. 9. The first day of school is Aug. 16.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.