URBANA — Starting Monday, the Urbana school district will no longer require students and staff to wear masks after the school board voted 5-2 on Tuesday to accept the administration’s recommendation to lift the mandate.
The lifting of the district’s mask requirement, which lasted longer than most others in the state, will be contingent on the district’s positivity rate remaining below 2 percent, a number that will be updated each Friday.
“I was one that was in support of continued masking, but was also very open to individuals who wanted to continue to have that additional discussion after spring break,” board member Tori Exum said. “I was one that thought that we would see a spike after spring break, but I was wrong. We didn’t.
“The risk is not there, and I think I’m at a point where, while I will continue to mask, others will not,” she said.
The district will maintain its “test to stay” policy, wherein symptomatic students and staff and their close contacts who are positive for COVID-19 will be asked to test voluntarily.
Board members Lara Orr and Ravi Hasanadka were the lone “no” votes. Hasanadka said he would have advocated for the Urbana Early Childhood Center to require masks while the rest of the district had its mandate lifted. Since that isn’t legally allowed, he voted “no” to “protect the students less than age 5.”
Board member Brian Ogolsky mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit against the district as a reason to end the mask mandate.
“Potential litigation is not something we should be taking lightly. It’s sad that we have to think about those things,” Ogolsky said. “But opening ourselves up to something like that when the entire rest of the state is doing something different is legally dicey. In this role, I think that we have to think about that.”
Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum called the district’s staff and students “pro-compliant,” meaning a large majority follow voluntary rules like the test-to-stay program and other mitigations like it. She said she didn’t foresee an issue if the district decides to return to required masking.
“I don’t anticipate that, with this shift, people will say, ‘We don’t want to do test to stay or anything like that,” Ivory-Tatum said.
Student representative Mycal Turner expressed concern about the consequences a lack of masks could have on students like him, referencing his single mother and the importance of keeping her healthy.
“I think what we’ll all have to do is model what we want to see,” Ivory-Tatum said, addressing Turner. “So, as I walk into buildings, I’m going to continue to wear my mask, you continue wear your mask, and hopefully most of the people around us will continue to wear their masks as well.”
In other business, the board voted unanimously to approve the hiring of current Champaign Central Associate Principal Derrick Cooper as Urbana Middle School’s next principal.