Evanston Now has learned that the teachers union at Evanston Township High School is asking its membership about potential changes in the school’s current policy requiring masks in the building due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday afternoon, ETHS principal Marcus Campbell is scheduled to brief teachers about the possible meaning of recent court rulings against mandatory school masking.

Evanston Now has seen a message sent by Teachers Council president Rick Cardis to ETHS teachers, asking what they think ETHS should do regarding mask policy.

The emailed message states that several nearby districts are already or will soon be mask-optional, and “We know ETHS will be at some point” as well.

However, the message also cites the Illinois Education Association, which emphasizes that the court rulings do let school districts require masks on their own, even if a statewide mandate remains overturned.

“Because this is a local decision,” the union president says in his email, “we want our voice included in the decision-making process around any changes to the current mask policy.”

The message also adds that with more information possible from principal Campbell, it “may be a signal that change is coming, rather than simply stating ETHS will remain status quo,” as Superintendent Eric Witherspoon indicated earlier this month, following the first court ruling in this case.

Therefore, Cardis’ email states, “we want to let the administration know where we stand.”

After seeing the message, Evanston Now contacted the union president for comment.

He told us, “Teachers Council is opposed to any sudden changes in the mask policy.”

Cardis also said that with the recent court rulings giving school districts autonomy in masking policy, “we want to ensure teacher, student, and community voices are part of any changes that occur.”

He also added that as recently as Feb. 7, Witherspoon said ETHS will “follow the science,” and the Illinois Department of Public Health has not issued any changes regarding school masking yet.

The union president told us that optional masking will come to the high school at some point, “but ETHS definitely has not considered the impact those changes will have in the classroom, and teachers need a central role to inform the change process.”

In the meantime, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to reinstate the school mask requirement, so a decision there could impact the issue as well.

The governor has said that masking rules will be lifted for most non-school locations on Feb. 28, but wants them to remain in place at schools for some time longer, to allow COVID case counts to decline.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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