Mandate means masks for local students


When students go back to school across Ogle County, they will be required to wear masks.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced on Wednesday, Aug. 4, that students at all K-12 schools in the state – public and private – will be required to wear a mask.

That leaves area schools with really no other option, area district officials said.

The night after Pritzker’s announcement, the mask issue was discussed at the Meridian School Board meeting. While many parents argued for no masks, Superintendent PJ Caposey said they will follow the mandate.

“While I know I personally and many Board members agreed with their perspective on parent choice, local control, and a mask-recommended instead of mandated school year, I recommended that we follow the governor's Executive Order,” he said. “While this clearly disappointed many in the audience …  I felt it was the only prudent thing to do for our district.”

The Oregon School District will also comply with the mandate, in a letter to parents, Superintendent Tom Mahoney said that there could be consequences for not complying with the mandate.

“The consequence includes increased liability, loss of insurance coverage, and loss of school recognition which is tied to state funding,” the letter stated.

He said that he called law firms that represent the district, and they both recommended the district follow the order as to not expose, “the district to liability for acting in a way that would be considered wanton and willful.”

The school insurer also told the district that it would be “prudent” to follow the governor’s order.

Finally, the letter noted that the Illinois State Board of Education has threatened, “the loss of the school district's recognition status. If the state chose to pursue this path, it could lead to the loss of state revenue.”

“Essentially the new executive order eliminates the authority of school boards to adopt ‘mask optional’ plans for the start of the 2021-2022 school term,” the letter said. “Additionally, I was informed that the Governor's Executive Orders have been challenged in court 69 times since the beginning of the pandemic. In all 69 cases the orders stood.”

Caposey pointed to these “threats” as a reason to follow the order.

“Since this is obviously unprecedented, we do not know if any and/or all would happen should we choose to not follow the mandate,” he said.

He said two-thirds of teachers in the district were in favor of a mask-optional approach, but they have been, “overwhelmingly supportive of the process we have to follow.”

“As for parents, I just hope that they continue to help us promote a great learning environment and realize that we are on the same team,” he said. “Transparently, every protest or act of civil disobedience we have to deal with at the school level distracts us from the primary purpose of serving kids and we hope to work together to advocate for local control instead of working against each other. I have had meetings all weekend and all day Monday to prepare for protests and disorderly behavior instead of figuring out how to best welcome back students. It is just a tough situation.”

As for remote learning, it will only be offered for quarantined students, Caposey said. He said the ISBE did not authorize remote learning as a choice this school year.