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Districts that violate Pritzker’s mask mandate will face penalties: Illinois education superintendent

Schools could become ineligible to participate in athletics is mandate is ignored

Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala sent a letter Illinois school district leaders on Wednesday, warning them of penalties if they don’t enforce Gov. JB Pritzker’s mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors in schools.

In the letter, Ayala said that Pritzker’s Aug. 4 executive order has the “force of the law” and must be followed.

“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,” the letter said. “However, noncompliance is not an option. I will not compromise the health and safety of students or staff, nor will I risk even one child’s life. Local boards of education, schools and school districts do not have the authority to deny the Governor’s Executive Order requiring universal indoor masking in schools.”

If districts fail to enforce a mandate, they could lose state recognition, and would become ineligible to participate in any Illinois High School Association or Illinois Elementary School Association athletic events, the letter states.

“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. Wearing a mask is simple, safe and easy. I know it can be uncomfortable sometimes, but so are football helmets and seat belts. Sometimes we have to bear a little discomfort for the sake of safety and because it’s the law,” Ayala said in the letter.

She also advised districts to consult legal counsel and insurers so they understand liability issues if the mandate is not enforced.

“Gov. Pritzker took this action after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended it. The purpose of the universal indoor masking requirement is to ensure all students can safely attend school in-person this fall. We know that consistent and correct mask use is the simplest, most effective way to keep students safely in school, where they can learn and grow to their fullest potential,” according to the letter.

“We have so many important issues to face as we start the school year, and we want to start the year off with positivity for all our students. I ask that you respect that there is a mask requirement, communicate this to your school communities and celebrate the return to in-person learning,” according to the letter.

ISBE sent a letter on Wednesday to Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst, informing the private elementary and high school schools that they would be losing recognition status effective immediately, as the schools had “declined to affirm that your schools will comply with the universal masking requirement set forth in Executive Order 2021-18. In a publicly disseminated video you also stated that your school will not comply with the requirements in the order.”

However, a post Thursday on the schools’ website refuted the letter from ISBE, claiming that it will enforce the mask mandate. According to the post, Timothy Christian “never stated it would not comply with the universal mask requirement” and that Timothy “communicated its intent to comply with the Order in its response to ISBE.”

“Timothy is puzzled by ISBE’s claim that it received a complaint, and is troubled by ISBE’s harsh action of immediate revocation of recognition, especially because the first day of school is not until August 25 and the school never announced that it would be noncompliant. Nevertheless, based on the current situation, Timothy has determined that it will follow the Executive Order, and see one another’s unmasked faces outside,” the post said.

The schools are “working with ISBE” to restore recognition status. Classes begin at Timothy Christian schools on Aug. 25.