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Eight school districts continue to require masks despite ISBE threats

(The Center Square) – The Illinois State Board of Education could suspend additional school districts across the state, just as the agency has notified eight schools of non-compliance with the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.

A district school board president on parole says the process was not transparent.

ISBE recently filed emergency rules to enforce Governor JB Pritzker’s continued COVID-19 mask mandate for schools, putting each district in first place. That was after ISBE lost in court when judges said they must go through a similar due process to sway public and private schools’ accreditation status.

ISBE school recognition status depends on access to government funding and whether the state school board recognizes diplomas or allows participation in organized sporting events with the Illinois High School Association.

On Friday, ISBE listed eight schools on probation.

Seven of these were private schools: St. Johns Lutheran Parochial School in Coles County, St. James Lutheran Schools in Adams County, Vandalia Christian Academy in Fayette County, Christian Liberty Academy and Valeo Academy in Cook County, Kankakee Trinity Academy in Kankakee County, and Visionway Christian School in Christian County.

Crawford County’s Hutsonville Community Unit School District 1 is the only public school on parole.

“Due to the district’s continued failure to demonstrate compliance with universal indoor masking requirements, the State Superintendent has determined that your district’s status will be changed to probation with immediate effect,” said a letter from ISBE to Hutsonville on Friday.

Hutsonville School Board President Chad Weaver told Illinois Radio Network that their recommended mask policy has been in place throughout the school year and few students wear masks. He said the COVID-19 cases were comparable to other counties.

“We’ve been very consistent, if not a little better than some of our comparable school districts in our area,” said Weaver.

Hutsonville recently wanted to publish a conference on their status.

“They refused to allow the press to attend, they refused to allow us to record it, it was a very opaque meeting on behalf of ISBE trying to make it that way,” said Weaver.

ISBE did not respond immediately.

In their letter to Hutsonville, ISBE said they had until Nov. 30 to either appeal or submit a corrective action plan.

Weaver said the district requires masks on school buses and collects federal dollars tied to such guidelines. And they are ready to prescribe masks if local conditions so require. However, government funds could be at stake if ISBE’s mandate is not complied with.

“Basically, the new set of rules that ISBE has issued is at least a kangaroo court version of due process,” said Weaver.

Legal bills have been minimal, Weaver said, but some in the public have offered to cover costs to keep masks optional.

“One community member stood up and said, ‘I’m going to give $ 2,500 now to help and move on,'” said Weaver.

Other school districts across the state are planning or have optionally given up masks in preparation for litigation with ISBE.

In Fayette County, the Vandalia Christan Academy is already on probation. Vandalia Community Unit School District 203 last week approved optional masking starting December 3rd.

The St. Elmo Community Unit school district passed such a policy change on Thursday, which went into effect on Monday.

ISBE officials previously said they will investigate any school districts that do not meet the governor’s mandate.

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