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EDINBURG — The Edinburg Board of Education held a regu- lar meeting on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 at 6:04 p.m. in the district Media Center.
At the beginning of the meeting, two local parents addressed the Board on their concerns about having a mask mandate again for the 2021-22 school year.
Casey Kirkpatrick, an educator herself with a daughter in the community, expressed her concerns directly. “I am a parent and also work at a school district nearby, so I have seen how the masks affect the children. Regardless of everything we hear on the news, we are a very small district. My daughter’s class size is only 14 students, give or take a few. We don’t have the major concerns of a COVID outbreak getting out of control because we are so small. We are one of the lucky communities who are able to make these decisions ourselves based on the local data. It seems unfair to people who are not comfortable with getting the vaccine or not having to wear a mask at other places to require students to wear a mask five days a week, for 6 or 8 hours a day. I am for the social distancing, but I feel as though the par- ent has the choice to decide whether their child gets the vaccine, and their child should not be singled out just because they don’t have the vaccine. I ask the Board to consider giving the choice back to the parents on whether a mask should be worn or not, at least let us try it out to start the year. Some parents may feel more comfortable having their child wear one or get vaccinated and that is their choice and right. I just want my husband and I to have the choice to choose what is right for our child. We should all have the choice, and allow our children to start the school the normal way. The more normal we can make it for our students, the better the school year will be for them.”
Another parent echoed Kirkpatrick’s feelings. He said that the masks and social distancing were leading to the children being depressed and anxious. He felt that the mask requirement was hindering the kids, hurting them more than protecting them. “The kids need to see the smiles ,” He emphasized. It was his wish that the Board pursue a mask optional mandate to allow the kids to have a more normal year.
The Board thanked both parents for coming in to speak. Superintendent Ben Theilen expressed his own desire to go towards a more local control approach to COVID protocols for the upcoming school year. He pointed out that Edinburg is a lot different from Chicago, Decatur, or even other Christian County districts because of their size. As such, he was willing to play a little more loose with the ISBE and CDC guidelines. However, he did explain that some mandates he could not get rid of entirely.
Even though the district could separate children on the bus, students riding buses would still be required to wear masks while in the vehicles. The district has no control over that. However, other guidelines the Board could control. While the CDC states that unvaccinated children should wear masks, it doesn’t say they have to. And Theilen firmly believes the district will be able to lower risk factors enough that masks won’t have to be required. He said he did not want to have a masks man- date or require students and parents to have their vaccination cards on hand at all times.
In order to do so, he plans on getting the transition team back together who helped build the fluid pandemic protocols of the previous year. Theilen has also been in discussions with the lawyers and insurance company about their possible concerns with a “masks optional” school year. The Board also spoke in favor of allowing parents to choose whether or not to send their children to school with masks. Theilen hoped to get the guide- lines for the upcoming school year squared away within the next few weeks and sent out to parents.
The Board approved the FY22 tentative budget. Theilen called it an educated guess more than a budget, and said that right now, he is projecting to have more expenses and less revenues. However, he told the Board that the district finances were strong and not to worry about the budget too much. The Board also discussed the 3 year renewal of the Bushue HR contract for $6,540 per year. According to Theilen, they have more than made back their cost in working with Bushue, especially in the last few years. Just Bushue’s handling of all the legal chal- lenges and changes coming from the state alone has likely saved the district money in terms of legal costs. Theilen spoke highly of them and urged the Board to continue the contract. The Board did so.