Local school districts: noncompliance with state mask mandate raises insurance, funding concerns

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

OREGON, Ill. (WTVO) — Local school districts are responding to parent concerns about compulsory student masking in classrooms this fall, saying they risk liability, insurance and funding consequences from the state if they do not comply with Gov. JB Pritzker’s Executive Order.

Oregon School District Superintendent Dr. Tom Mahoney responded to concerns from parents Thursday, saying, “The new executive order eliminates the authority of school boards to adopt ‘mask optional’ plans for the start of the 2021-2022 school term. Additionally I was informed that the Governor’s Executive Orders have been challenged in court 69 times since the beginning of the pandemic. In all 69 cases the orders stood.”

Mahoney released a letter to parents after receiving numerous messages from parents, asking why the district was complying with Gov. JB Pritzker’s latest Executive Order, which mandates all staff and students of schools statewide wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Meridian School District Superintendent PJ Mahoney said on Twitter, “I know for a fact that each of my 7 volunteer [Board of Education] members wants a mask-optional school year. Given the Gov mandate, we do not think this is prudent. Last night I heard them called Nazis, Communists, Evil, Cowards, and ‘so-called Christians.’ Just feel bad.”

Most states are leaving it up to local schools to decide whether to require face coverings.

Pritzker’s order followed updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended all U.S. residents wear masks indoors, regardless of whether they’d been vaccinated or not, to halt the spread of the delta variant of the virus.

Mahoney said the District consulted two different law firms to investigate the consequences of not going along with the mandate, with “both [stating] that failure to follow the order would expose the district to liability for acting in a way that would be considered wanton and willful. Under the tort immunity act, willful and wanton conduct is defined as a course of action that demonstrated ‘an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others or their property.'”

Disregard for the order would also result in the school district becoming open to liability for COVID-19 related legal allegations, and the possibility of losing state funding.

“Please know that the administrative team has begun planning ways to have students outdoors as much as possible during school days,” Mahoney said.

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