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The Evanston Township High School Teachers’ Council sent a cease-and-desist letter to ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon on Friday, calling on him to reverse his decision to make masks optional at the school building starting Monday, Feb. 28.
According to a Friday afternoon press release from the Illinois Education Association, the ETHS teachers’ union is demanding an opportunity to negotiate with administrators on any changes to COVID-19 mitigation measures, including universal masking and weekly testing requirements.
“Superintendent Witherspoon’s decision to go from masks required to masks optional while at the same time cutting back weekly testing was made without input from our community, without input from our teachers and without input from the families we serve,” Teachers’ Council President Rick Cardis said in the press release. “The Evanston Township High School Teachers’ Council today submitted a demand to bargain these major changes that impact the health and safety of everyone in our schools.”
A spokesperson for ETHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the RoundTable on Friday afternoon.
Over the last two weeks, confusion over mask requirements has dominated school districts across Illinois after a downstate judge granted a temporary restraining order against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide mask mandate. That ruling initially only impacted just over 100 of the state’s 859 districts, but in recent days, more than 700 school districts have decided to make masks optional.
“Due to the lack of clarity and the fluidity about the state mandates, ETHS highly recommends, but does not mandate, wearing masks while indoors for all students and staff as of February 28, 2022,” Witherspoon wrote in an email to students and families on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
But Cardis told the RoundTable on Friday that the Illinois Department of Public Health has not changed its stance that schools should follow universal masking guidelines, and he said that ETHS teachers need more time to prepare for such a major change in protocols.
“What do we do about students and staff who are high risk if they catch the virus? How do we prepare our students to handle a classroom environment where some students are masked and others are not?” Cardis said. “This change is unnecessary. It’s not following the guidance of medical experts. It’s not giving consideration to or time to prepare for the very real challenges educators will face on Monday.”