McLean County’s largest school district encounters community divide as school board keeps mask mandate


David Eades addresses the Unit 5 School Board Wednesday night at Normal West High School
David Eades addresses the Unit 5 School Board Wednesday night at Normal West High School(25 News/Heart of Illinois ABC)
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 12:23 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NORMAL (25 NEWS) - The mask mandate remains in place for McLean County’s largest school district.

The Unit 5 School Board is not ready to make mask wearing optional in the district, defying demands from some community members after a Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order last week making Gov. JB Pritzker’s COVID-19 mandates “null and void.”

21 of 22 people who addressed the board Wednesday night pleaded with the elected leaders to rescind the face covering requirement, but the issue was not on the meeting’s agenda and the board’s attorney Curt Richardson recommended no change until the appeals court weighs in on the matter.

Many in the crowd applauded board member Jeremy DeHaai when he pledged to do everything he can to allow students to take off their masks.

“As a board, we need to decide. My heart tells me we have to,” said DeHaai.

The meeting became heated at times.

“I choose to live,” said teacher Carly Hendricks, responding to hecklers reacting to her comments.

Carly Hendricks addresses the Unit 5 School Board
Carly Hendricks addresses the Unit 5 School Board(25 News/Heart of Illinois ABC)

“I think wearing a mask in closed quarters teaching one-on-one with students in a school environment outweigh any of the clear, present dangers that this virus could have on our students, faculty, and staff,” Hendricks said.

Another Unit 5 teacher, Carolyn Sunkel, voiced a much different view

She asked, “Why would the majority of districts in our county interpret the ruling one way while Unit 5 chooses to the use narrative that the district wasn’t named in the lawsuit, so it doesn’t pertain to us?”

“We’re going to be one of the last places still doing this,” said Unit 5 parent Mollie Emery.

Mollie Emery addresses the Unit 5 School Board
Mollie Emery addresses the Unit 5 School Board(25 News/Heart of Illinois ABC)

“It feels like you guys are tone deaf to what the community wants,” said parent Lindsay Mitchell.

Board member Alan Kalitzky said the board must make sure not to put the district at further legal risk, while also act in the students’ best interest.

Board President Amy Roser said masks will come off at some point, and the community will have to heal from the divisive issue.

‘I hear and feel your frustration,” Roser said.

Copyright 2022 WEEK. All rights reserved.