Schools fighting for local control over mask policy face nonrecognition status

(The Center Square) – While some school districts assert they have local control of COVID-19 policies in arguing in favor of mask mandates, other districts say the contrary is playing out.

School districts facing the possibility of nonrecognition status from the Illinois State Board of Education continue fighting to keep their mask optional policies in place.

During Wednesday’s hearing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X03rB6cLpAo) in Sangamon County Court in the case of more than 700 parents suing more than 140 school districts over forced masking, Chicago Public Schools’ attorney Robert Swain asserted they have local control to implement mandates.

“Those 146 school boards, elected to run those 146 school districts, all have local authority to adopt policies, they all have them,” Swain argued.

The audience of parents in the courtroom began to laugh before another attorney asked they remain quiet.

In Hutsonville school district, which has had masks optional all school year, Board President Chad Weaver said them being targeted for non-recognition status by the Illinois State Board of Education proves otherwise.

“To think the opposite is true is kind of frustrating because if that’s the case then nothing should be happening to us,” Weaver told The Center Square.

Schools that are deemed not recognized by ISBE would lose state funding, along with other negative consequences.

Hutsonville, along with ten other public and non-public schools are on probation, according to ISBE (https://www.isbe.net/_layouts/Download.aspx?SourceUrl=https://www.isbe.net/Documents/School-Recognition-Status-Change-Summary.xlsx). Seven have been recommended for nonrecognition status, which could mean loss of state funding.

During a status hearing held during an emergency school board meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nEy7U6AhJ8&t=1534s) before Christmas in Vandalia, school district attorney Jerry Stocks told ISBE the district could be held liable by parents otherwise.

“Be it for a constitutional tort for the interference of that kid’s property right in that education, be it for an offensive touching, be it for an intimidation for their educational experience,” Stocks said.

Illinois State Board of Education hearing officer Krish Mohip said during the hearing with Vandalia ISBE is not there “to engage in discussions over the efficacy of … public health guidelines.” He also said challenges should be brought “in the appropriate venue.”

Stocks said they’ll likely end up in court against ISBE while the district continues its mask-optional policy.

In Hutsonville, the school district attempted to have their status hearing stream live Thursday, but Weaver said ISBE shot that down.

ISBE didn’t return messages seeking comment on why the Hutsonville hearing wasn’t allowed to be live streamed.

Weaver said ISBE doesn’t seem interested in the mental health harms that come along with the mandates.

“It’s not even whether or not we’re making them, it’s whether or not we have it on paper,” Weaver said. “That’s the significant thing, not whether or not kids are actually wearing masks. It’s frustrating.”

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