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The bus waits outside Nichols Middle School, where most students still wore masks even though they became optional on Monday. (Photo by Duncan Agnew)

Masks became optional, though still “highly recommended,” for students and staff members in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 classrooms starting Monday.

The shift in masking guidelines and COVID-19 policies at the district came a week after Evanston Township High School and the City of Evanston both lifted their mask requirements.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton announced the change in late February, citing Evanston’s high vaccination rate and declining case numbers. So far, 86% of the local population 5 and older is fully vaccinated.

In his message to the community at the time, Horton said the district was waiting a week longer than ETHS to lift its mandate because “this is going to be a significant change for children and adults alike, and [we] want to be mindful of this transition.”

But on Monday, parents and teachers said that most students remained masked in class for the time being, although several community members said students may slowly become more comfortable with the idea of taking off their masks in school.

Julie Schatz, an Evanston parent who has kids in kindergarten and third grade at Willard Elementary School, said she was excited for her children to be able to socialize more easily and see their friends’ smiling faces.

“I hope that the children who are maskless do not feel any pressure to put masks on, especially if they are in the minority,” Schatz said. “I hope that there is no shaming of kids who are wearing masks. It is their choice, it is allowed, and it is following the science.”

District 65 operates 18 schools and early childhood education centers, primarily serving students from kindergarten to 8th grade.

During dismissal on Monday afternoon at the district’s Nichols Middle and Lincoln Elementary schools, most students still wore masks as they left the buildings. One parent of a kindergartener at Lincoln told the RoundTable that he was comfortable with kids taking masks off at school, especially because his child is fully vaccinated, but he expressed having more concern about high-risk or immunocompromised students and staff.

A crossing guard directs traffic outside Lincoln Elementary School during dismissal on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Duncan Agnew)

For those people, evidence shows that wearing a mask, even when others around you are not, still provides significant protection against COVID-19 infection. In that scenario, a surgical mask can reduce risk of infection by over 50%, but an N95 or KN95 can also decrease the risk of testing positive by as much as 80%.

Nina Tatarowicz, who has two kids at Washington Elementary School, said she was thrilled for her children to have the chance to communicate more effectively with their classmates and teachers by taking off their masks in school for the first time in years. But she added that teachers and staff did not spend much time acknowledging the change or talking about it with students.

“Sadly, there were no thoughtful conversations in the classroom. Pretty much each kid came in with a mask on or not, and there was no discussion around it,” Tatarowicz said. “This leaves a feeling of disharmony. Masking of our children for two years straight that ends more in a shrug than a celebration.”

She said that she knows several families with plans to continue having their children wear masks in school until after spring break later this month to avoid interruptions to travel plans.

Additionally, District 65 is still requiring masks at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Center and Park School, and all staff at the Rice Children’s Center will also have to wear masks indefinitely.

A spokesperson for District 65 did not immediately respond to a request from the RoundTable for comment on how the first day of optional masking went for students and teachers.

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. The article doesn’t indicate how Nina Tatarowicz knew “there were no thoughtful conversations in the classroom” about the change in masking policy. Is she a teacher’s aide or volunteering in the classroom?