EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — The latest mandate from Governor JB Pritzker calls for masks in all Illinois schools Pre-K through 12th grade and daycares.
This guidance comes after he said not enough districts took action on their own. He credited Edwardsville for being one of the districts that did.
There are 1.8 million children in Illinois who aren't eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine yet and Gov. Pritzker said this is one of the reasons a statewide mandate is necessary.
He added that the requirement follows CDC guidance, which calls for everyone wear a mask inside, regardless of vaccination status.
The Illinois mask mandate extends to indoor youth sports for kids in pre-kindergarten to high schools seniors. Masks won’t be required for athletes and coaches in outdoor sports.
On the same day of the announcement, Edwardsville School District presented its back-to-school plan Wednesday night.
Parents and loved ones eagerly listened to next year's plan at the board meeting. Half of the faces were covered, half weren't. The public comments represented that. Some were split.
"Take your knee off the neck of these children because they can't breath in these masks!" one grandmother exclaimed.
"I support any policy to have an in-person year of instruction and I believe masking will help you to do that," another attendee said.
Taking it all in, the Edwardsville School Board voted to move forward with its plan that requires masks. Mask breaks are included.
But not everyone is pleased with Pritzker's announcement and what's to come.
Avery Brooks is a junior at Triad High School. She's been vocal about not wearing masks in school, even speaking at Triad's board meetings.
She explained that her passion is mental health, after losing her dad to depression four years ago.
"Mental health has been very important in my life and it's been something that I really focus on," Aver said. "Since COVID, it's been hard. Mental health is just plummeting and it's really hard to see all of my peers go through things that they're going through, so that's really my passion."
Her reasoning for no masks ties with being able to make that choice.
"Nobody has been in our shoes, you know, nobody ever asked the students what they think and how they feel in school. I think that's important and the students should have that right that ability to voice their opinions. Right now, I just feel like that it's being taken away and our boundaries are kind of being overstepped," she explained.
Avery said wearing a mask to school causes some interruptions in class, too.
"Every day you walk into a class and there's always those few kids that aren't wearing them right. Then you go onto a 10-minute spiel. That's really affected our learning experience and it cuts out learning time and I feel like that is very important to us. We look forward to going home then we do to learn, honestly, so that's hard," she added.
Megan Cunningham cofounded Speak for Students, kicking off the nonprofit a month and a half ago. The Madison County mom and educator said they are working with thousands of parents.
"We were adamant that parents should be able to choose which COVID mitigation strategies are used individually with the doctors," she explained.
With the latest guidance, Cunningham feels the pressure.
"I have so many parents crying to me. You are pinned up against a wall and you are making medical decisions with your politicians. I'm not co-parenting with the government," Cunningham said.
She added that it's not about putting on a face covering, but rather control being ripped away.
"No one is against masking in our group, we are for parents' choice," Cunningham explained.
She said they hope to file a class action lawsuit against Gov. Pritzker's mask requirement.
In order to change the mandate, Pritzker said state health officials will look for a reduction in virus transmission, the ability and usage of vaccines for kids younger than 12 and additional guidance from the CDC.
Madison County has a total of 33,102 COVID-19 cases, 669 of which came in the last week, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That's a big increase from the county's low point of 45 cases just two months ago on the week of June 9.