By CHRISTY JANKOWSKI
Originally Cerro Gordo planned as many districts throughout Illinois did, making masks optional for the 2021-22 school year on July 26 released on their website. All of that changed for many districts after Governor Pritzger issued a mask mandate for all K-12 schools in Illinois on August 4.
On Monday, August 16, several people spoke out against adding a mask requirement. Joe Peters of Cerro Gordo stated between 50-60 people signed a petition to unmask the children. Peters did not provide the petition.
The meeting began with Superintendent Brett Robinson asking the crowd to mask, and provided extra masks for those without. “At this time I am going to ask everyone, thank you by the way if you are wearing a mask. If you came and you are not wearing a mask and we are offering you a mask, so to be in compliance to be in the school that is partially funded by State funds if you want to say a mask needs to be worn and if you choose not to wear a mask the option would be to leave the meeting. The board wants to hear you if you want to be heard.”
Everyone put on the required face coverings except for a small crowd of people. Joe Peters heckled out, “they just want to control you.” adding he and his family were there all night without masks.
The School Board President, Tony Piraino, stated after Robinson advised the crowd of possible penalties, “You have all been asked to leave and if you are not leaving you are in violation of what we have asked you to do, and you are trespassing and then we as a board will have to review our school board policy 830 to see if you will be banned for a year. Thank you to all of you that did put a mask on.” At this time the board has made no decision regarding this matter and are not willing to comment publicly.
Prior to the school district attorney speaking, Piriano said a few words of his own. He stated that he had spoken with several other board members from other districts, the school district attorney, and Representative Dan Caulkins. “understating from speaking with Representative
Dan Caulkins about this is an emergency executive order is only valid for 30 days, but he can, and likely will follow it up with another executive order to extend that by another 30 days like he has for previous executive orders.” He added that districts he spoke with that made masks optional were receiving pushback from the ISBE and that districts stand to lose recognition and the ability to play IHSA and IESA sports. He added, “ I consider myself to be fairly open minded and am willing to research both sides of every issue in order to make an informed decision. Here is what I know: whether you want to believe the mask are helpful or harmful, you can find the science to support itWhether you want to believe covid is a concern or not, you can find the Science to support it. However I have lost a family member to it, and walked the
Covid ICU floor with a family member to say a final goodbye so I know for certain it is and you are not going to convince me otherwise.”
Before the public spoke, the board had their district attorney, Matt Gardener explain a few things, “As board President mentioned on July 26 there was the boards reopening plan. On the following day, July 27, 2021 the CDC changed it’s recommendation and recommended universal masking in schools for k-12 students regardless of vacination status.” He added the order has legal prescendent, “Same authority was used by the governor last spring and summer issuing the executive orders n place and those were challenged in court. A circuit court affirmed his authority and the second district appellate court affirmed there is legally binding precedent here getting authority to be governor to take this action in the governor’s executive order.”
The board heard from seven community members: Jennifer Brunner, Jennifer Bell, Joseph Peters, Jeff Bebar, Scott Bloomberg, Ryan something, Kandra.
Jennifer Brunner began her speech by reading 47 Beavers in the Big Blue Sea.
“I am going to do something a little different because I believe in education as well. (Reads children’s book) And I also believe in choice so even though Matt has a fear of fighting the government and standing up for us, I don’t. This is for my children too, this is for the children that come into my home.” At the end of reading the book she added, “What I have seen from this community is when they raise money for the school it happens..Our taxes went up, we voted yes and got a new school, it happened. (Amen from small crowd).”
“Last point is you have a fear of them taking everything from us, the lawyer has a fear of them taking everything from us, but even if you lose accreditation you are raising smart kids…”
Candra Striehbech also spoke out against mask use. “I have not worn a mask once and I am fine, he is fine.” Adding, “I don’t want my kids, or any of your kids, or the teachers to to be forced into something they are not comfortable with. I will say if a parent chooses to put their child in a mask and that should be up to the parent and I don’t think there is anything wrong with a parent making a decision for their child. I am against this, that is all I gotta say.”
Jennifer Bell also was against any sort of mask usage calling it an illegal mandate.
Joesph Peters, a parent that started an online petition and was taking signatures in the parking lot prior to the meeting, got into a heated discussion with Piriano. “You said that the science proves that masks do work, you all know this statement from the CDC itself…Can you explain to me right now how the algebra works to protect you against the virus that has particles smaller than wildfire smoke that it won’t protect you against?”
To which Board member Karen Freese replied, “Respiratory droplets.”
Piriano reinstated his earlier statement that he did not state masks were necessarily the answer. “I think you should finish saying what you want to say, we don’t have..we are not doctors here.”
Peters, “I am asking you questions, you can’t just ignore the questions. And that is what is going to happen. Everyone is going to come up here and speak and then you guys are just gonna ignore…”
Brunner added she thought Peters was hinting on the “fear”, “Tony I think he is asking if I am wrong, the decision that you guys have made..did you consider….did you do it based on fear from the government taking everything away from you or did you base it based on factual, really for the health reasons…protecting our children? Not the money?”
Piriano reminded the crowd that the board had unanimously agreed to make masks optional, however Pritzger’s executive order for masks changed the reopening plan.
Peters added, “How forcing anyone to do anything in America is beyond me. It is blatant tyranny.”
Ryan Barrick spoke thanking the board. “I have heard a lot tonight about how they are fearful, and how they are cowards or whatever..but I don’t see that way at all. I think they are very brave in front of all these guys you know calling them names or whatever else they are trying to do….I voted for them because I trust in their decision making. I don’t think they are cowards or anything, I think they are brave.”
Jeff Bebar spoke out against the mask mandate as well playing “Governor” at times. “The question here is does the Governor have the legal authority of mandating masks, and in my opinion the answer is no.”
Adding later, “Kids have the right to access to education and you have the obligation to deliver it without breaking the law.”
Scott Bloomberg addressed the board also not in favor of masks, in tears by the end of his time. “In closing, please stand up for our children. We are to protect them long term, short term, and for their future. How will they remember those of us within authority whether parents, teachers, Principles, Secretarie, janitors, Superintendents, and school board members. Will they remember us when they needed us the most? Or will they….sit back and make them wear a mask because we are too afraid to stand up to those trying to push illegal and unethical actions onto our most precious ones.”
The board thanked the public participants, and voted unanimously to add mandatory face coverings inside Pre-K-12 at Cerro Gordo Schools. They will review the plan by September 30 and will continue to continuously review the plan. Students are also given mask breaks, and
Elementary has two recesses with no masks.
As far as any issues for the first day back with masks, both the Elementary Principal Jodi Neaveill and Junior and Senior High Principal stated there were zero issues. Neaveill stated during the regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, “ I think it went very smoothly, people were positive, 100% mask compliant, I thought it went really really well.”