Illinois strips private school of recognition for not following state’s mask mandate

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Students wear masks in class during the pandemic, 2021 (Nexstar)

ELMHURST, Ill. (WTVO) — The Illinois Board of Education moved swiftly Wednesday to remove official recognition for a private Christian school in Elmhurst, after it said it was considering a “masks optional” policy for the fall school year.

The Governor’s order applies to students and staff regardless of vaccination status, in an effort to slow the transmission of the COVID-19 delta variant among unvaccinated and immunosuppressed residents.

On Wednesday, Matt Davidson, superintendent of Timothy Christian Schools, said the school was considering adopting a “mask-optional” policy.

“After several nights to sleep on it and a productive exchange of ideas and plenty of prayer, the board and I have taken the necessary time to respond rather than react to the press conference by the governor last Wednesday,” he said. “This isn’t an act of defiance. We aren’t puffing our chest out. We’re simply going to explore this further for the next few weeks, maybe longer.”

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. Pritzker’s masks-in-classrooms mandate.

State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carmen I. Ayala, responded to Davidson in a letter Wednesday night, saying, “Pursuant to ISBE’s authority under 23 Illinois Administrative Code 425.60, ISBE is removing your school’s status as a recognized nonpublic school, effective immediately. As a result of being non-recognized, your school is now subject to at least the following consequences:

  1. Seniors who graduate from a non-recognized school will receive a diploma that is not recognized by ISBE. This action is irreversible should the school later regain its recognition status, and these students will forever have a degree from a non-recognized school.
  2. Your school, families, and students will be unable to participate in the Invest in Kids Act tax scholarship program subject to the regulations set by the Illinois Department of Revenue.
  3. Your school will become ineligible to participate in Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) sanctioned sports subject to the regulations set by IHSA/IESA.”

The IBSE continued, saying “We do not take this action lightly. The purpose of the universal indoor masking requirement is to ensure that all students can safely attend school in-person this fall. We know that consistent and correct mask use is the simplest, most effective way to keep students safely in school, where they can learn and grow to their fullest potential. And masks work best when everyone wears one. Therefore, ISBE must take every action possible under its authority to ensure compliance in all schools with the Executive Order.”

On Thursday, Timothy Christian Schools’ attorney, Vanessa Clohessy, responded to the IBSE, saying, “

First, Timothy Christian Schools never communicated its intent to be non-compliant with the Order; and second, neither staff nor students have returned to school for SY21-22, as classes do not begin until August 25th. This was communicated in written and video messages to the Timothy community, and was explicitly told to Dr. Ayala when she called Superintendent Matt Davidson late this afternoon.

Nevertheless, in order to be crystal clear, on behalf of Timothy Christian Schools, we are writing to inform you that Timothy has no intention of defying the Executive Order; Timothy will observe the Order effective immediately, even though school is not in session for two weeks. We trust this statement will be sufficient to reinstate the school’s recognition status, effective immediately, and without blemish to the school’s record.”

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s children attend the school, according to Patch.

Frustrated parents are calling out local school districts over the mandate, forcing “thousands of volunteer School Board members and superintendents throughout the state to act in a way that they personally disagree with in order to comply with the order,” according to Meridian School District Superintendent P.J. Caposey.

“To get called things, like evil and coward, and Nazi and communist, I thought was really unfair. I just want to let everyone know, your board members are not your enemies. We’re enforcing a rule that we don’t necessarily agree with, but we have to,” he said.

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