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High School senior Taylor Dothager mixed no words in addressing the Vandalia School Board in expressing her disappointment with having to continue to wear masks as Vandalia schools returned to in-person instruction the previous day.
The board met on Tuesday, March 16 in the gymnasium of the high school. Dothager was the first and only person to speak in the public comments portion of the meeting.
A call for a public disobedience in wearing masks to school had circulated social media the prior weekend, to which Dothager mentioned she had posted a similar statement at the end of the prior week. She said her parents had spoken with her concerning the consequences of such actions, but let her make her own decision concerning the matter.
She said that she had been contacted by Dr. Jill Garrison, superintendent, about the activity, who after a discussion asked the teen what she would do in the superintendent’s position, to which Dothager said she would not want to see the school get sued by state officials.
Dothager continued, citing many state and national elected and appointed officials in asking the board to consider allowing students to make a choice to wear a mask or not, invoking the mantra in the abortion debate – My body, my choice.
She told the board that now is the correct time to address the issue as students are wearing thinner masks, and cited the mother of an athlete whose daughter fainted while wearing a mask. She said she has a petition which had 18 signatures on it, collected in just four hours.
“We just want you guys to push for a choice. Myself and those younger are able to make choices about transgender issues. If we choose on that, why not choose about whether or not to wear a mask,” she said.
She also said families have had a challenge in using Internet during the stay-at-home orders, which she said the governor has continued to extend. Now, she said, President Joe Biden may continue a national mandate until July 3. She also told the board that as of that day, 17 states do not require the wearing of masks, including neighboring states of Iowa and Missouri.
“We did not wash our hands any more than before the pandemic she told the board. All day long students are touching their masks; I can’t imagine how dirty they have become.”
She then began to question the classroom schedules inplemented by the school board, said it made more sense to use Wednesday as a cleaning day, instead of the alternative attendance days of Monday through Thursday. She also cited the number of cases in the school.
“We can’t live in fear. We have never closed with the flu and have had 30 or more kids out. Even after getting the vaccine we are told we must wear a mask. And on the packaging when buying masks, none say that they prevent the spread of germs,” she said.
“I know that nothing will probably happen as a result of my speaking here today, but at least I can say that today, I had the opportunity to get my opinion out there.
In response to Dothager’s statements, Board President Joe Lawson said that the board had worked very hard to get back to in school attendance.
He said that many board members have already addressed the governor and Illinois Department of Public Health to ease up on the mandates.
Lawson continued to state that the school was now back to five days a week, in-person instruction, as well as attendance being allowed at sporting events.
“We really don’t want to push at the mask issue at this time,” he said, but adding that the board would take her statements into consideration.
In other news, the board heard:
• Superintendent Garrison reported that all was going well with the students fully back in school. She also mentioned that the last day of attendance would be Wednesday, May 19, with graduation to follow on Saturday, May 22. She said the district is planning to hold a full graduation in the gymnasium;
• Principal Randy Protz reported success with FFA and the high school band contests;
• Principal Brian Kern reported that Wade Brannon was the DAR Good Citizen recipient at the junior high, and that girls basketball would be starting soon;
• heard that at the elementary school, there will be 50 students attending the after school tutoring program;
• heard from vocational center Director Nick Casey that classes are finalizing the Building Trades house and reported that enrollment is now up to 208 students, and
• heard from Athletic Director Jason Clay that only 200 tickets would be allowed for visitors on the road for football road games, which would be allotted to players, cheerleaders and coaches. He also said there are no restrictions on underclassmen events.