WHEATFIELD — The Kankakee Valley School Board voted 6-0 on Monday, Sept. 27 at its regularly-scheduled board meeting to continue making masks mandatory at the middle school and high school through at least Oct. 29 with the matter to be reviewed on Nov. 1 despite over 50 minutes of public comment that often turned adversarial and at times, belligerent.
There were approximately 25 people seated in the board room. All board members were present except for Kristy Stowers.
Assistant superintendent Allisa Schnick presented the Return to School Plan review and updated data once the meeting began. Using slides, Schnick presented numbers for each corporation school that showed that all schools, with the exception of Wheatfield Elementary, were on track to not only meet but exceed last school year’s quarantine numbers as of Sept. 13.
For example, KVHS had 655 students quarantined in the 2020-2021 school year and were already at 150 students in just over one month of school.
Schnick also showed that the middle school has been hardest hit with 25 actual positives linked to school exposure that included students, teachers and substitutes and 235 quarantined. Between Sept. 20 and 24, with masks mandatory, there were four positives with 125 students considered close contacts but only three were quarantined because of the mask policy. She also showed a series of slides that compared what the numbers of lost instructional days and quarantined students would be both masked and unmasked to contrast the two.
Upon the completion of Schnick’s presentation, board president Jill Duttlinger opened the floor for three-minute statements from the public with the admonition that all statements be directed to the presiding officer and that no person should address or question board members individually or speak about specific personnel. This is normal board policy.
Ashley Steven read a prepared statement that urged the board to return to optional mask wearing. Brad Roorda questioned why if masks are so important then why are they not required in the hallways during passing period.
Toni Smith questioned the validity of COVID tests, especially PCR testing.
“Where is the proof that masks works,” she exclaimed. “You’re putting masks on these little children and suffocating them.”
Another lady told the board that she did her research and the use of masks is inconclusive.
A third woman advised that she has a son and a daughter in the corporation.
“My son who is a senior and doesn’t want to comply so he doesn’t want to go to school,” she said. “My daughter is 12 and has had two heart surgeries, but she is complying. It’s sad she is lying down and rolling over.”
John Eggers pointed out that some of the numbers are based on assumptions and that there was “no control group.”
“We will not comply with this misinformation,” he said.
A man who identified himself as a teacher in Illinois quoted Franklin Roosevelt and questions the statistics.
“There is no end goal in this web of lies and I don’t want my children living in a fear-based society,” he said.
Another man stated he had moved his children here from Lake Station “because you know how bad Lake Station is.”
“We’ve already pulled all of my kids out and I’ll never let her return if these masks continue. These are all fake numbers and it’s about money,” he added.
Christine and husband Ryan Bristol spoke separately, saying that students are behind and teachers are tired of making the kids wear masks. She called for a complete removal of contact tracing and of masks.
Her husband complemented the board and staff for doing their best but said little kids are having troubles and that the school board should give parents the option.
Jeff Schepel started his time by saying, “We don’t believe it. If this was such a deadly virus, we would all wear masks in here. It’s baloney.”
Rebecca Groen stated, “It’s about compliance. My kids aren’t afraid and this is just something being forced upon them.”
She urged the board to check East Porter County Statistics and stated that PCR testing tests positive for all viruses.
Holly O’Roarke attacked the board “for all of the eye-rolling,” and said that they are taking away their schools.
“This is just a farce to make us compliant,” she said. “This is America! No vaccine and no masks.”
Brianne Born said that they were beating a dead horse and asked the board if they went against the state if they would lose all funding or just COVID funding.
Viviana Lewis said she worried about masks causing mental issues in the future and said she “was just trying to do what was best for our kids.”
Several parents made threats to pull their kids from the corporation and to vote the entire board out.
Following the public comment portion of the meeting, the board discussed their options.
Board member Tim Helton summed it up by stating, “It’s either we mask up or we quarantine a lot more students.”
Board member Katie Sampson asked for and received clarification on several items, including that masks are only required at the middle school and high school, that masks are not required in hallways or outside because of limited exposure time and that the statistics are compiled and reviewed daily.
Several members of the audience continued to interrupt, forcing Duttlinger to use her gavel and point out how she “had wholeheartedly listened to each and every one of you, but now you need to not disrupt.”
Board member Stephen Eastridge related how he had spent the day recently with several middle and high school teachers and was able to speak freely with them.
“We all understand the options and need to focus on keeping kids in the school building,” he said. “I feel that we need to go another month,” which brought shouts of “Hitler” and “Freedom” from members of the audience.
Duttlinger again admonished the crowd and the board voted 6-0.
Following the vote, the board undertook the normal business of a board meeting as it approved the previous minutes as well as the corporation and cafeteria claims. A review of the tentatively agreed to Teacher Collective Bargaining Agreement was given and the board members that took part were thanked for their diligence.
Several resignations and one retirement were approved as were numerous extra-curricular spots at the high school. One certified (teaching) position and six classified positions were officially filled.
Several purchases were approved and an FFA Field Trip, two Use of School Facilities agreements and four Professional Leave requests were approved as well.