A member of Illinois’ Joint Committee on Administrative Rules says the Illinois State Board of Education needs to explain its authority to punish schools for following the governor’s mask mandate.
About 51 of the more than 850 school districts in Illinois are on probation for not following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate. Probation is the first step to what could lead to loss of state funding, let alone loss of accreditation and the ability to compete in athletics.
The full House passed a bill in April to allow the Illinois Department of Public Health to punish schools that don’t follow COVID-19 guidance, but the Senate never took it up. There is no state law mandating masks.
Joint Committee on Administrative Rules member and Republican state Sen. Don DeWitte said the bipartisan committee of 12 called for ISBE to testify at the committee’s meeting last week, but the agency was a no-show. He said a representative from the agency needs to show up at the committee’s Sept. 14 meeting.
“We just want to engage in a conversation to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and under what authority they believe they have to be able to do this,” DeWitte told WMAY.
“ISBE had an all-day Board meeting the day of the JCAR hearing and staff were not able to attend,” a spokesperson for the agency said. A list of schools on probation can be found at ISBE.net/covid19.
Former Warsaw school board member Steve Lucie said his district made masks optional, but with the threat of losing funding in a matter of weeks, they’re expected to reverse course. He’s troubled that not even Joint Committee on Administrative Rules has the ability to provide oversight.
“So we all know what that sounds like, that sounds like not a republic but a king situation, a dictator situation and I believe that we’re in that situation right now,” Lucie said.
The governor this week said he will withhold funding from districts that defy his executive order.
“Am I really going to do that, yes, we are really going to do that,” Pritzker said Tuesday. “And by the way, many school districts are heeding our call to have mask mandates in their schools so they are reversing their positions.”
On Wednesday, Pritzker Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh cut off a Chicago reporter’s questions about children being low-risk and if the governor is considering closing schools again.
“You should probably stop the misinformation, we are done here,” Abudayyeh said as the governor walked away from the podium during an unrelated news conference. “You know how you prevent schools from being closed, you stop complaining about mask wearing.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said no district should have state or federal funding withheld over a mask policy.
“It’s kind of mafia-esque,” Davis said. “It’s ‘do it my way or we’re going to hold back any funding that you may get from the state of Illinois.’”
Davis said the governor needs to show the data behind his decision.
The governor said his main objective is to protect children from COVID-19.