Illinois Board of Education responds to schools over mask mandate: ‘Noncompliance is not an option’

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FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2020, file photo, students wear protective masks as they arrive for classes at the Immaculate Conception School while observing COVID-19 prevention protocols in The Bronx borough of New York. Schools and camps across the county are making plans to help kids catch up academically this summer after a year or more of remote learning for many of them. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — The Illinois State Board of Education issued a statement to school boards Wednesday afternoon, outlining the punitive steps the State would take against districts who do not follow Gov. JB Pritzker’s masks-in-classrooms mandate.

State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala wrote, “The executive order has the force of law. I understand the pressure some school and district leaders may be facing from community members, and I will provide you with every support to understand, communicate, and comply with the order.

“However, noncompliance is not an option,” Ayala continued. “I will not compromise the health and safety of students or staff, nor will I risk even one child’s life.”

Facing an outcry from parents and staff in their communities over the forced mask mandate, school districts across the state say they have consulted legal advisors about the liability and litigious hurdles they would face if they defy the Governor’s order.

“A [non-complying] district would first have its recognition status changed to ‘On Probation’ and would be asked to submit a corrective action plan. Failure to address the deficiencies would lead to nonrecognition, meaning total loss of access to state funding and loss of the school’s ability to engage in any Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association athletic competitions.

“These are not steps anyone at ISBE wishes to take nor should these steps be necessary. School districts have the moral and legal obligation to follow public health requirements and guidance to keep their students and staff safe,” she went on to say.

Meridian School District Superintendent P.J. Caposey wrote a public letter to Gov. Pritzker on Wednesday, saying administrators were facing “untenable and unsustainable pressure” from the community because some districts were choosing not to enforce the mandate.

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