Many kids still masked on first day without CPS mask mandate

Some parents at Portage Park Elementary said they wanted to to play it safe — at least for now.

SHARE Many kids still masked on first day without CPS mask mandate
Tahra Workman-Mandell prepares to drop off her daughter, Maura, at Portage Park Elementary School Monday, March 14, 2022, — the day masks became optional.

Tahra Workman-Mandell prepares to drop off her daughter, Maura, at Portage Park Elementary School on Monday — the day masks became optional.

Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

The first day of the school week at Portage Park Elementary looked much like any other of the last two years: Most kids were still wearing masks, even though they weren’t required to.

Several parents dropping off their children at this Northwest Side school said even though Chicago Public Schools are now mask optional, they were going to play it safe.

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“We’ve all been masked for two years now, and we’ve all kind of kept our germs to ourselves. So everyone taking them off at the same time — there will be colds and sniffles and quite possibly COVID and flu and stomach bugs. We’re going to hold off for two weeks and then we’ll take our masks off,” said Mirela Hukic, mother of two first graders.

Hukic said the school district’s sudden switch to making masks option is “political.”

“There are elections coming up, right?” she said. “I feel like, why not earlier? I like the idea of everyone having their own options — choosing what’s best for their family.”

Hugo Trejo, dropping off his three children, also had his kids masked.

“We just want to be safe,” Trejo said. “We’re worried about if everyone is going without masks right away.”

Trejo said he’s had notes from his kids’ teachers, saying they also plan to be masked for the time being.

Tahra Workman-Mandell, whose daughter, Maura, is in kindergarten, said they’re staying masked up for several reasons, including having medically fragile relatives.

“I tell my daughter, if there was a gas exposure, I would wear it until the gas is gone,” Workman-Mandell said. “Once we’ve moved from the pandemic to kind the endemic, that’s when I’ll take it off.”

Tricia Wisniewski has a daughter, Florence, in second grade and a son, Bud. Neither child was wearing a mask Monday. Wisniewski said she’d left the decision up to her children.

“It’s time, and we’re not nervous about it,” Wisniewski said. “They probably could have rolled it out a little bit slower or presented it better.”

Wisniewski’s 3-year-old, Olive, is in preschool at the Chicago Park District. Masks became optional two weeks ago there, she said.

“The teacher said that immediately, kids who hadn’t spoken all year — they were interacting and talking,” Wisniewski said. “Especially for the little ones, it makes a big difference.”

Florence was all in favor of getting rid of her mask.

“Because it’s easier to talk,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand [when] talking with masks.”

At an unrelated news conference later on Monday, Lightfoot said everyone should be “grateful” that things have gotten to the point that mitigations can be relaxed.

“We should be celebrating this moment,” Lightfoot said.

That goes for city health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, too.

“When I think of the riskiest places in Chicago, schools are at the bottom of that list,” Arwady said at the same news conference.

The Chicago Teachers Union, however, continues to oppose the change and has vowed to file an unfair labor practice complaint in response.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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