Congress Park School, Brookfield

Masks were the hot topic at the LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 school board meeting on July 22 where elected officials, like others around the state, are considering whether to require kids to wear facemasks inside the buildings when the new school year begins next month.

Thirteen people addressed the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting with 10 favoring a mask requirement, at least for kids who are not vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

District 102 serves the southwest quarter of Brookfield, where its Congress Park Elementary School is located.

Dr. Jamie Belmares, an infectious disease specialist and the father of two school age children, said masks are necessary, at least for unvaccinated children, to keep the virus from spreading.

“We have to keep masking,” Belmares said, while acknowledging that masks are irritating and uncomfortable.

Dr. Michael Sigman, a palliative care specialist at the Rush University Medical Group, agreed.

“A couple hundred kids have died in the U.S. from COVID-19. I haven’t seen any die of masking,” Sigman said. “We have to wear this at work all day; it sucks, it’s a nuisance and I can’t wait to get rid of it.”

Katie Kierna said students should be not be required be wear masks. Kierna referred to a recent article in the pediatrics journal of JAMA, the journal of American Medical Association, which stated masks may harm children by exposing them to higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide.

She said the study, which has been retracted since its publication, also showed that 68 percent of students wearing masks have experienced adverse side effects such as sadness, increased reluctance to attend school, headaches and difficulty concentrating.

“I also don’t need a study to tell me this because I’m a mother. I see it myself with my own children,” Kierna said. “Also, I feel like that we have not talked about the mental and emotional load on our children, which has become more of a pandemic than actually COVID has for them.”

When Belmares pointed out that the study had been retracted, Kierna said the decision to retract the article was political, a contention that Belmares disagreed with.

“It was considered to be bad science, I looked it up,” Belmares said.

Other parents implored the district to keep their children safe by requiring masks.

“I need the school to protect Roxy,” said Pam Podolner, referring to her 10-year-old daughter. “Until she is eligible to get a vaccine, and she will be getting one, I need the school to make sure that everyone in that room is wearing a mask to protect these kids.”

Two parents said that students at Park Junior High School who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 should not have to wear masks, citing the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that vaccinated people generally do not need to wear masks. Currently only those aged 12 or above are eligible to receive the COVID vaccine.

“I think it’s terribly disruptive and traumatic [wearing a mask],” said Carrie Jenke, the mother of a rising Park eighth-grader who has received the COVID vaccine.

On July 23, the Cook County Department of Public Health issued updated guidance for suburban schools stating its “strong recommendation” that masks should be worn in school by all unvaccinated individuals age 2 years or older.

The Cook County Department of Public Health further encouraged schools to follow the guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends that all school children older than 2 wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Schools are not required to follow the recommendations from the Cook County Department of Public Health.

“These are not mandatory,” said Tom McFeeley, the manager of communications for the Cook County Department of Public Health. “It is our strong encouragement for schools to follow these guidelines. They are not enforceable, but masking people who are unvaccinated is the only way to get out of this pandemic. That’s what we firmly believe.”

District 102 made no decision at their meeting July 22 about what its mask policy will be. Superintendent Kyle Schumacher said he wanted to wait to see if more guidance would be coming

“That is something that I do believe that we need to wait on and see what else is going to happen,” Schumacher said at Thursday’s board meeting.

Schumacher said on Friday that the district would review the new guidance from Cook County Department of Public Health.