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PANA—At the end of a two hour special meeting which featured comments from 15 different people, the Pana School Board voted 4-3 to require masks be worn indoors as the new school year starts. Craig Deere, James Moon, Michelle Blackwell and Mark Beyers voted in favor of the mask requirement while Doug Kirkbride, Kyle Anderson and Anne Dorn voted “no.”
The meeting was held in the Panther’s Den of Pana High School. Vice President of the Board, Kyle Anderson, presided at the meeting in the absence of President Doug Kirkbride, although Kirkbride participated by phone.
Most of those in attendance appeared to oppose the mask mandates with 14 out of the 15 speakers commented on their opposition. Only one person, Washington Elementary School Principal Cheri Wysong, spoke in favor of the requirement which drew cat-calls from the audience.
“Your fight is not here,” she said. “Your fight is in Chicago and in Springfield,” which drew jeers from the audience. Mrs. Wysong ended her presentation early saying, “I didn’t interrupt you. I don’t think that’s right.”
Before she was interrupted, Wysong made the point how hard teacher in the district worked last year in educating children. She said they did their job in-person, virtually, in quarantine. “The teachers in this district did two jobs the entire year and they made sure your kids were taken care of and you need to acknowledge that. The Board gave them the opportunity to take care of your kids. Your kids are our kids.
“We made your kids felt safe. We made your kids felt loved. We cheered for them every single day,” said Wysong. “We want what’s best for the kids. We don’t want to wear masks either, but it’s not up to us at this point.”
But those thoughts were lost on the 65 or so non- masked audience members who were there to oppose the mask mandate. Most of comments were related to the power of the state trying to control the local school district. There was no mention by any of the speakers about health concerns except for Clay Hardy who told the Board those with compromised health, “Should take care of themselves.”
“How far do we allow our government to push us?,” asked Nicole Brown. “We cannot keep bowing down to our oppressors instead of standing up for what you believe. Masks are a hindrance to education.”
Joanna Hardy implored the Board to, “Do what’s best for our children,” and Jamie Glick asked them to “Use common sense.”
Tiffany Sims asked the Board to take a poll of the district concerning mask wearing and see where everyone stands. Kelly Barringer, who said she was a teacher in another school district, said masks, “Created turmoil for our kids.”
One speaker, Jeremy Williams, issued a warning to the Board if they voted as the crowd wanted, “We will back you up and totally support you.” But if they did not, the crowd “will oppose you.”
Following nearly 40 minutes of public comments, the Board entered into executive session at 7:22 p.m. to discuss personnel matters. They emerged at 8:00 p.m. and approved the recommendations before turning their attentions to the 2021- 22 Back to School Plan. School Superintendent Jason Bauer opened the discussion with a statement.
“Those that don’t know me personally, don’t know I have my own personal set of beliefs outside of my professional obligations to this school district,” he began. “If I were acting as an ordinary citizen tonight and interacting with you all, you would probably find out that I think very similarly to a lot of you in attendance tonight. However, I am not here in the capacity as an ordinary citizen.
“I am here acting in a professional capacity as the leader of this school district trying to do everything in my human power to ensure that every student and that every staff member in this district, has the ability to come back to school next week in a safe, learning environment. If we are here to focus only on the politics of the day as opposed to our children coming back to school next week, then I would not be doing my job in looking out for the best interests of the school district.
“Moving forward, I am making the strong recommendation that we approve the ‘21-’22 Back to School Plan as presented. The plan is endorsed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health) and most importantly, the Christian County Health Department and is consistent with the recommendations and guidance provided by our legal counsel and other counsels across the state. Highlights of this plan include masks will be required for all students in Pre-K through 12th grade in all schools regardless of vaccination status and this applies to both inside of school buildings and also on buses.”
Bauer went on to explain without following the masking requirements, the school district may not be covered by insurance if any claim for a case of COVID is brought to court. He also said it could put the district in jeopardy of nearly $6.9 million in school aid from the state. He also said the district could lose its recognition and diplomas would not be recognized. Participation in IHSA and/or IESA extracurricular activities could also be at stake.
School Attorney Brandon Wright spoke and reiterated what the superintendent had just said.
“By not following the guidelines, you could create a series of issues for the district,’ the attorney said. “It could prove ruinous to a school district to disregard.”
The attorney said thus far, there have been 60 court challenges to the governor’s authority on these issues and none of them have been successful.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there. A school district is not a healthcare facility and some of the laws mentioned don’t apply in school settings,” Wright con- tinued. “You really don’t have the discretion not to follow an executive order.”
After Wright addressed the Board, the motion was made to accept the Back to School Plan and it was approved, 4- 3.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:34 p.m.