STILLMAN VALLEY, Ill. (WTVO) — Gov. JB Pritzker’s mask mandate for school students and staff has created “untenable and unsustainable” pressure on school boards statewide, according to Meridian School District Superintendent P.J. Caposey, leaving them in the position of enforcing a rule many parents disagree with.
Caposey wrote an open letter to Pritzker on Wednesday, saying the school district, and many others across that state, had been planning on reopening schools with a mask optional policy, in accordance with a community survey.
“On August 4, after nearly four weeks of planning in local communities, the clear right to local control was removed with the public issuance of COVID Executive Order No. 85,” Caposey wrote. “I need to share with you what has happened since your order has (arguably) forced literally 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.”
Pritzker issued the order following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommended all Americans, regardless of their vaccination status, wear face masks indoors to halt the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is causing a spike in cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated and immunosuppressed.
Caposey went on to say that when the order was issued, school districts contacted their insurers and attorneys to get their perspectives on liability and litigation concerns of defying the order in favor of listening to the concerns of local parents and teachers.
Based on their recommendations, Caposey said the Meridian School District decided to follow the Governor’s rule, which “has led to contentious Board meetings, erosion of community trust, and levels of community in-fighting that are arguably unprecedented,” he said.
“I have received this week more email and texts from superintendents and board members, considering resignation, than I have in the last nine years,” Caposey wrote.
Durand schools announced this week that they will not be following the Governor’s mandate, and will recommend but not require mask-wearing in the classroom.
Caposey went on to ask the Governor to “provide a clear, declarative statement of what will happen to any district that chooses to exercise its local control and run their districts in a manner they see fit,” saying that without a statement of consequences, some districts will openly defy the mandate.
“Doing so places untenable pressure on the hundreds of other districts attempting to follow your directives. This is a plea. The pressure is untenable and unsustainable,” Caposey said.
The Illinois State Board of Education’s State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala issued a statement to school boards Wednesday afternoon, saying, “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.
“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.