Several Central staff members repeatedly unmask around students

William Tong, Online Managing Editor & Editorial Editor

A majority of students and staff at Naperville Central have welcomed the opportunity to participate in hybrid in-person learning since the beginning of second semester on Jan. 26. But  many have also expressed concerns about their health and safety because of a small number of staff who consistently don’t wear their masks around students. 

Thus far, Central Times was able to independently confirm incidents where five separate teachers have taken their masks off at least once for several minutes while students were in their classrooms. Central Times also reached out to several of these teachers, who declined to comment. 

Because all but one are members of the physical education department, Central Times also reached out to PE department chair Neil Duncan. 

“If there is a concern, I think it is appropriate to have students or staff talk directly with each other,” Duncan wrote in response to an interview request, which he declined. “I would rather… the students who are feeling uncomfortable come see me, and let’s work together to create a solution.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the “consistent and correct use of masks in all public settings, including schools.” The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) requires that “all persons… must wear a face mask at all times when in school or in transit to and from school via group conveyance, unless a specific exemption applies.” A study published in the journal Nature concluded that “universal mask use could [have saved] an additional 129,574 lives from Sept. 22, 2020 through the end of February 2021.”

For a few of the teachers that have unmasked around their students, the incidents are regular occurrences which coincide with the teachers not maintaining a proper social distance either.  

“As I’m sitting there, he takes his mask off to talk to everyone on Zoom,” said junior Liam Crider, who, because of medical issues, had to sit on a chair within six feet of his teacher. “That was [about] six minutes of him not wearing it.”

Crider says that his teacher will commonly have his mask off for a total of 9-10 minutes per class period, and that this behavior had occurred at least six times as of Feb. 10. He suspects that the teacher doesn’t think students can hear with him while masked, though the teacher has never explicitly provided an explanation. 

“It doesn’t really make sense because we can hear [him] perfectly fine,” Crider said. 

For freshman Madeline Brook, her teacher’s unmasking habits are even more perplexing. The teacher will usually have her mask off for a total of 15-20 minutes every class period and often gets within two feet of her students. The CDC defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 cumulative minutes in a day.  

“When I’m in person, she starts off…talking on Zoom, and she wears her mask for that,” Brook said. “Then she comes over to the in-person kids, and she takes it down to talk to us. She comes really close when giving instructions.”

Most concerned students are uncomfortable directly communicating with their teachers about their masking habits. 

“I don’t want to appear to be disrespectful,” Crider said. “I know that it isn’t, but in the back of my head, I’m thinking that it is.” 

Other students who spoke to their teachers about the unsafe learning environment have been promptly ignored. 

“There was one girl who mentioned it to [the teacher],” Brook said. “She just said ‘sorry,’ and [it] went under the rug.” 

Because most students don’t report these incidents and those that do have been ignored, school administrators are mostly unaware of this behavior. Though a staff member took their students’ concerns about other teachers to school administrators on Feb. 1, Principal Bill Wiesbrook said the first he had heard of such an incident was through an anonymous tip about two weeks ago. 

“I forwarded that to the department chair and said, ‘I don’t know anything about this [or] if it’s true or false, but can you look into and address this?’” Wiesbrook said. “I haven’t heard anything back since.” 

Regardless, according to Wiesbrook, the administration aims to address the issue of staff members unmasking around their students. 

“I’m disappointed and frustrated,” he said. “Safety procedures that we’ve been broadcasting and enforcing for everybody should be modeled consistently by [staff]. I can understand how a student or staff member who’s not a supervisor would be uncomfortable addressing [these issues]. Sharing that with someone like me or a supervisor would be the right step to take.”