Mask Off?

Parker takes substantial steps toward pre-pandemic normal


Photo credit: Harry Lowitz

Parker students hanging out in the library hallway without masks on.

On August 4th Principal Dan Frank ‘74 released a “Principal’s Vantage Point” communication detailing the administration’s expectations for the upcoming school year. Within the three-page message from Frank were the schools newest COVID-19 guidelines. 

In this email, Frank informed members of the Parker community that, “Parker will continue to require masking on campus while indoors, except when eating and drinking, for the first two weeks of school.” Frank also shared that, “upon returning to school, Parker will require all to participate in an initial round of testing.” 

In his message, Frank acknowledged that some members of the school community would be frustrated by Parker’s approach to masking after having primarily unmasked summers. Regardless, Frank voiced confidence that community members would follow the guidelines for as long as they were in place.

Frank wrote that this decision was based on the fact that, “the CDC, IDPH and CDPH all still require COVID infected persons to isolate and quarantine for a minimum of five days, Parker wants to reduce the risk of students and/or employees becoming infected at school, causing them to miss those all-important opening days/weeks of school.”

Three weeks later, on August 23rd at 3:00pm, Frank, in conjunction with Assistant Principal Priyanka Rupani and School Nurses Anne Nelson and Shelby Turner, released another message to the school community regarding the coronavirus. 

This communication, entitled, “Health and Safety Protocols Update and New Required Forms for the Coming Year” detailed a number of changes to the school’s coronavirus planning that had been made since Frank sent out the August 4th communication. 

One significant policy reversal layed out in this email was that, “Parker will not require masking on campus at this time.” This large change elicited strong reactions from many community members. 

“I hated masks,” senior Mortimer Buckley said. “I never really supported them when we forced them back on towards the end of last semester, and when I heard over the summer that they were coming back, I was pretty upset. I’m just glad that we’re moving on from that awful phase of our lives.” 

Another change outlined in the message is that, “Parker does not plan to perform routine surveillance testing.” This policy change was another that was unexpected due to its variance from the initial guidance Frank shared. 

Although the school stated it won’t perform routine surveillance testing, it said that, “For the first day of school only, all students and employees are asked to participate in screening prior to attendance on Tuesday, September 6.” This round of testing however will not be conducted by nor at Parker. The school is asking community members to take a home antigen test or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test before returning to 330 West Webster. These tests will be completed on the honor system and community members are only obligated to report positive test results.

All of these large shifts to the school’s coronavirus response in just a few weeks time occurred due to updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, according to Turner. 

Per a press release from the CDC, individuals who have been exposed to the coronavirus are no longer recommended to quarantine. Instead, those exposed to the virus should wear a mask for ten days, and get tested on day five. 

“We’re super excited because obviously it feels like a much more normal start to this year,” Turner said. Although the school has officially removed the requirement for community members to mask, Turner told “The Weekly” that if there is an outbreak of more than three individuals in one class, then that class would be required to mask and test, in compliance with the current status of CDC guidelines. Additionally, Turner stated that anyone exposed to the coronavirus would also have to wear a facemask.

Regardless of the guidance for the majority of community members, the school nurses are not permitted to take off their own masks in their office. According to guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health, “Masks continue to be federally required in health care settings and for health care personnel, including school nurse offices.” 

Turner is optimistic about the upcoming school year. “ I can say from personal experience, this morning we started having all of our meetings and it just felt like a really positive start to the school year,” Turner said. “People seemed really happy to be back and just living a more normal school year.”