(The Center Square) – A southeastern Illinois school district has been put on probation for relaxing its mask guidance.
If the district doesn’t change that, it could lead to the state closing the school.
This, as a large schools association, pushes for the state’s COVID-19 guidelines to be in line with the governor’s reopening plan.
The Red Hill school board in state Rep. Adam Niemerg’s district, has already relaxed their mask policy.
“They made the masks optional going into this fall,” said Niemerg, R-Dieterich. “They didn’t hear anything for quite a while from the Illinois State Board of Education but just recently received a letter placing them on probation.”
In the letter, obtained by The Center Square, ISBE said “Since the Red Hill board adopted its masking policy, our team has reached out to you on numerous occasions to reiterate the current law and the potential, serious consequences to the district for its ongoing non-compliance.”
“As of today, the Red Hill board has refused to rescind its masking policy or amend it in compliance with the law,” the ISBE letter says. “For this reason, effective the date of this letter [June 23, 2021], we must lower the recognition status … to ‘on probation’ for exhibiting deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff.”
The ISBE didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Education publication Chalk Beat reported the Large Unit District Association, which represents 52 of the state’s largest districts, sent ISBE a letter last week demanding the state publish health guidelines for schools to coincide with the governor’s Phase 5 reopening.
“We request that social distancing, quarantining, and masking guidelines in schools be consistent with health guidelines of Phase 5 as applied to other venues in Illinois,” the LUDA letter said. “Through science, we know that children are the least vulnerable population to COVID.”
LUDA wrote that continuing to practice social distancing is “impossible for most of our schools to operate at 100 percent capacity.”
To the mask mandate, Niemerg doesn’t think that fly for too long.
“Honestly, I don’t think that people in Illinois are going to stand for it,” he said. “I think there’ll be a major pushback, not only within the legislature from legislators like myself, but also the general public. They will not let this happen this fall.”
The Republican representative said legislators should take up his House Bill 4083 which would prohibit mask requirements in schools.
ISBE gave Red Hill a hearing date for July 8, to which the district has 60 days to submit a “corrective plan” to the regional superintendent and state superintendent.
State law says after a year of probation, if the school doesn’t comply with the state, the actions the state could take include closing the school.
“Schools placed on probation that, after a maximum of one year, fail to make adequate progress in correcting deficiencies are subject to the following actions by the general superintendent with the approval of the board, after opportunity for a hearing: (1) Ordering new local school council elections. (2) Removing and replacing the principal. (3) Replacement of faculty members, subject to the provisions of Section 24A-5. (4) Reconstitution of the attendance center and replacement and reassignment by the general superintendent of all employees of the attendance center. (5) Intervention under Section 34-8.4. (5.5) Operating an attendance center as a contract turnaround school. (6) Closing of the school.”
Niemerg said local taxpayers want local control of their schools.
“If the [Illinois Department of Public Health] and the ISBE is going to sit there dictatorially through the governor and impose these mandates, what’s the point of local control at all,” Niemerg said.
Lawmakers considered House Bill 2789, which would allow the state to close public and nonpublic schools for not complying with COVID-19 protocols.
The measure passed the House in the late-night hours in April, but the measure has not advanced in the Senate.
“They filed that bill because they know the schools have local control, they know that we have the kids' best interest in mind here,” Niemerg said. “Ultimately … it’s a situation where this summer all the kids throughout the entire state are free to do as they please, they’re in Phase 5 with no limitation, they’re the least susceptible to COVID yet here we are, we’re still having conversations in almost July about kids wearing masks this fall.”
At an unrelated event in Chicago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker Monday said people should still carry a mask and “use your mask accordingly.”
“Bring your mask with you and keep safe,” Pritzker said after reporting a summer camp in central Illinois with lax mitigations led to an outbreak of more than 80 people, including the hospitalization of one unvaccinated adult.
To the report of a church camp IDPH said didn’t require masks leading to a COVID outbreak earlier this month, Niemerg said some states have lifted their mask mandates altogether.
“And there is very limited transmission going on with our youth,” Niemerg said.