Dist. 86 board votes to make masks optional

For the first time this school year, Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South students were not required to wear masks this week.

The Hinsdale High School District 86 Board Friday voted unanimously to make masking optional for students, staff and visitors. Close contact exclusions and testing exclusions also were shifted from required to strongly recommended, but not enforced.

The vote came after the board met in closed session. In a subsequent statement, board President Terri Walker and Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said the decision was based on several factors, including updated DuPage County Health Department guidance on Feb. 14, local case rates and the Feb. 17 Illinois appellate court ruling to dismiss the state’s appeal of the temporary restraining order issued by a Sangamon County judge Feb. 4, which enjoined Gov. JB Pritzker from ordering districts to require universal masking.

Before he cast his vote, board member Jeff Waters also cited the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules vote Feb. 15 to suspend the Illinois Department of Public Health’s school masking requirement.

“The rule cannot be enforced again until JCAR agrees to withdraw the suspension,” Waters said.

The vote drew cheers from attendees, several of whom expressed their opposition to the mask mandate during public comment before the closed session. Speakers cited the numerous surrounding school districts that had switched to mask optional in the last week. Hinsdale Central parent Stephanie Dillard urged board members to follow suit.

“It is time for the kids to get back to learning. Stop pushing your agenda and your politics on our children,” Dillard said. “They need to start living and start learning normally again.”

Hinsdale Central’s Ethan Pan said he and was among a group of students protesting the mask mandate on Feb. 10 in the school’s gym when they received verbal abuse from other students. Staff, he said, stood by watching.

“When the school is teaching us to be polite, honest and responsible, I’m very disappointed that the teachers and the school employees are not following the same rules,” he said.

The change applies to all on-site events and activities at district facilities, such as sporting events, fine arts performances and board meetings, according to the district statement. Other existing mitigation strategies — including physical distancing, ventilation and cleaning — will remain in place.

The board also directed the administration to continue consulting with the DuPage County Health Department on the district’s mitigations. Waters sought and received confirmation that the board was making the decision as an independent elected body even as it maintains a consulting relationship with the health department.

Board member Eric Held said the district should give the DCHD and other health organizations due deference on public health matters.

“(The DCHD is) one of our trusted advisors as our local health board, and so we wouldn’t want to take action or not consider their guidance with regard to ongoing mitigations,” Held said.

The district will continue to receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars, a district spokesman said, as the funds are not conditional on a district mask mandate. The district has been allocated almost $3.2 million as part of the federal relief program.