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Public emotions boiled over as Rockridge's school board voted to mandate masks

In a move that outraged many, the Rockridge School District voted to comply with IL Governor J.B. Pritzker's executive order requiring masks in schools.

EDGINGTON, Ill. — It was a dramatic night in Rockridge, as the mask mandate fight played out in the high school's gymnasium, in front of a crowd topping 110 people. 

On a 5-2 vote, the Rockridge School District's board voted for a reopening plan that includes mandatory masking for all students, staff and visitors, as per an executive order from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. 

Board members Derek Workman and Greg Marty were the only two to vote against the plan. 

The move was made during Monday night's school board meeting, despite a full crowd in attendance that deeply opposed the mandate. 

It didn't take long for the meeting to turn into an hour-long public comment, featuring several staff, students and parents all against masking requirements. Emotions rose quickly, with several people tearing up while testifying against masks, long stretches of standing ovations in favor of said speakers, and frequent booing and interruptions of School Board President Nathan Faith.  

Ultimately, Faith said in this situation, the local control had been 'stripped' away from the board. An executive order from the governor left board members with no choice but to comply, he argued. 

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"I'm actually encouraged that we were given the ability to come up with our own [reopening] plan," said Faith. "Because let's face it, over the last 17 months, [the Illinois State Board of Education] and the governor have been telling us what to do," said Faith. 

At one point, Faith said defying the orders could mean board members and the superintendent could lose their positions, which was met with loud jeering from the crowd. 

"Ultimately our hands are tied. And I don't see a way out... other than following an executive order," he said. 

Currently, Rock Island County, which houses Rockridge School District, has just under 40% of its population fully vaccinated. Since the start of the pandemic, the county has seen over 15,000 positive cases and over 300 deaths due to the virus

When the public comments began, Rockridge High School Spanish Teacher Joy Carter was first up, arguing how loud she needed to yell for students to hear her instructions through a mask. Carter postured what would happen if outraged parents and staff in Rockridge, Sherrard, Mercer County and beyond all banded together. 

"We can't make fear-based decisions any longer," she exclaimed, getting a standing ovation from the crowd. 

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A group of high school students also plead their case, begging the board to not make them wear masks this school year. Rising seniors Nathan Petreikis and Brayden Deem said all they wanted was a normal senior year. 

"We just want a normal school year with football, homecoming, basketball, band, choir, show choir and everything else," said Deem. 

Rising junior Alaina Carter agreed, saying when she wears the mask for seven hours a day she feels as though she's not getting enough oxygen. 

"I'm constantly thinking about when the next time is that I'll be able to slip my mask down without anybody noticing," she told the board. 

After their speech, Dawn Deem stood up as well, saying it wasn't easy for the students to stand before the school board. 

"Everybody else's health is not their burden to bear," she argued. 

Plenty of parents also spoke up, saying masking is a personal choice and commenting how 'ludicrous' the situation was. 

Lindsay Begyn said she has three kids in the school district and said to the board, "The survival rates are high - our children - children, the population - is the least affected of all populations so far." 

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Father Chad Tucker agreed, saying, "Our kids are the healthiest, most resilient of all of us." He added his own daughter got frequent headaches and migraines from wearing her mask, and asked what would be done for her. 

Yenae Stevens also stood up, asking the board to make a decision reflective of the public, not what the governor had ordered. 

"You are obligated to make your decisions based on what we feel is best for this school district and for our kids," she said. "We are all here representing our kids." 

Even State Senator Neil Anderson (R) of the 36th district got up to make a comment. He said while he supported whatever decision the board made, he made a push for 'local control' to rest in their hands, as opposed to the governors. 

Two board members did vote against the reopening plan, with member Greg Marty saying he'd had a conversation with the district's attorney. According to Marty, that attorney said he would fight on the side of the school if they chose to defy the governor's order. 

Board President Faith added that all of the legal advice coming from that same attorney said the school should act in compliance and follow the mask mandate. 

School begins in Rockridge on Friday, August 20. 

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