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Bloomington-Normal Schools Undergo Abrupt Change in Mask Policy

Written by on February 24, 2022

Photo Courtesy from Unit 5

NORMAL, Ill. – Unit 5 schools in Normal have undergone many changes related to how they handle COVID-19 restrictions as of late.

A recent lawsuit in the state of Illinois has made schools in other areas shift their COVID-19 guidelines to a ‘mask recommended’ rule. Since this lawsuit has came to light in the Bloomington-Normal area–schools from both Unit 5 and District 87 have made the same rule changes.

Unit 5 schools made the switch on Feb. 16. The process started on Feb. 4, when Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order for masking and testing in a consolidated case. The judge ruled this without naming Unit 5 as one of the schools subjected to this new policy, yet as stated in the message sent to parents from Unit 5 superintendent, Kristen Weikle, the language used in the ruling led to confusion among schools within Illinois.

“It was a challenge for all districts in Illinois,” said Weikle. “Unfortunately, we did not get any guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education or any other state entity until Friday afternoon, so it left a lot of school districts trying to find out information on their own.”

On Feb. 7, Unit 5 learned that the intergovernmental agencies that they have relied on also changed their rules pertaining to mask-wearing. It was on that same day that a new phase of the mitigation plan was implemented, and the meeting for Feb. 16 was planned.

The day before the meeting, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted not to extend the emergency rules put in place by the Illinois Department of Public Health regarding COVID-19 mitigations. They had determined that while Gov. Pritzker’s executive order was still in place, districts were limited in their ability to enforce those rules.

In the words of Weikle, she “couldn’t have anticipated that a legislative committee would have stepped in and rejected rules that have been in place for two years.”

This led to an immediate and sudden change for the schools in the unit. On the night of Feb. 15, staff members were notified of what the school district had determined was their next step.

“We wanted them to be prepared for what might occur the next day with any students or staff members who came to school not wearing a mask,” said Weikle. “We certainly did our best at the time to provide information.”

By 9:50, parents of children in the district were notified of the change. “We had a late start Wednesday, so we were hoping we would have a little bit of time, and maybe get some updates from the state,” said Weikle. “We did get out information as soon as we had something to share with families.”

Other accommodations, such as remote learning for those medically eligible, weekly COVID screening, COVID testing and voluntary Shield testing are still available for Unit 5 schools.