Masks become optional across District 203


Photo by Peyton Arens

On Sunday, Superintendent Dan Bridges and the school board announced that masks will become optional, but “strongly recommended,” for all students, staff and visitors beginning Tuesday. 

The district decision comes amid declining cases and a temporary restraining order filed in Sangamon County against the governor’s emergency mask mandate in some Illinois schools. District 203 is a defendant in the case. The school board held an emergency closed session meeting on Sunday and announced the change hours after.

“Based on Naperville 203’s metrics and our ability to successfully mitigate risk, we are confident that we are ready to adjust our mitigations and continue to provide a safe learning environment for all,” a Sunday afternoon message from Dan Bridges and the school board said.

From Feb. 6 to Feb. 12, Naperville North recorded fewer than five positive COVID-19 cases and 46 quarantines. That is a fraction of the caseload from the first week of second semester, when the school had 72 positive cases and 129 quarantines (Jan. 2-8), and it follows a trend of declining COVID-19 case numbers in DuPage county and Illinois as a whole. Some nearby school districts switched to a mask optional policy following the announcement of the temporary restraining order on Feb. 4. Neighboring school District 204 also announced an end to their mask mandate, which will take effect on Feb. 22.

In their message, the superintendent and school board said that masks will continue to be required on school buses as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. Other mitigation strategies, like SHIELD testing, will also stay in place. 

In regards to immunocompromised students and staff, NNHS Principal Stephanie Posey said that there are no plans for a change in curriculum or its delivery. 

“Right now, there are no plans for remote or synchronous online learning. We will continue to be in person and we continue to work with that population of both students and staff throughout the pandemic,” Posey said. 

Some of the student body is anticipating an awkward social situation with a “mask-optional” guideline. NNHS freshman Payton Schrier expressed concern about how the masking decision will impact what students think of each other.  

“I feel like people will face judgment either way. So it’s kind of a lose-lose situation. If you don’t wear it people look down on you, but you’ll just get judged either way,” Schrier said.

According to Posey, for students who are uncomfortable with being seated next to those who are not wearing a mask, individual teachers will be able to decide how to arrange their seating based on classroom setup. Despite this, the school will try its best not to separate students based on those who are masked and those who are not.

“All of our classrooms are different, whether they’re lab classrooms versus a traditional classroom versus a performance level classroom, so we really have to leave that up to the individual teachers. I don’t want our students segregated by masks and non-masks because I think that we’ve already done a good job of creating seating arrangements that are at least three to six feet apart,” Posey said. 

Senior Kendall Kedziora will decide whether or not to mask based on what is best for her and her family– including an asthmatic in her household. 

“I really hope everyone just respects each other’s decisions and it really just doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re just doing it for you,” Kedziora said.

Junior Gia Lostumbo does not think that the new guidelines will necessarily be a drastic change for the school.

“I am going to still use a mask. I’m just going to scout it out, you know? I don’t mean this to sound passive-aggressive, but I’m already around people who have it below their nose, so I don’t think it’s much of a difference,” Lostumbo said.

Last week, individuals at Naperville North who chose not to wear a mask were sent to the auditorium instead of their normal class schedules. Posey said that this form of separating is not sustainable.

“Having people in a separate space is not sustainable for a long period of time, but we certainly will during the transition time, help to support kids, walk them through the transition, and make them the most comfortable as possible,” Posey said. 

Posey reiterated the significance of this change in a school-wide announcement Monday morning, urging students to “treat each other with dignity and respect for the choices we make.”

“I want to make sure that we understand as we come into the building tomorrow that these are big decisions that come with a lot of personal angst. It will be different here tomorrow,” Posey said. 

Some are less worried than others about whether students will respect each others’ choices. 

“I think we’re just going to go about our day, or at least I hope everyone’s just going to go about their day,” Kedziora said. “And kind of live life just how it was before.”


Reyah Doshi contributed to this story.