Heyworth school district to require masks, cite ‘too much risk’ to defy Governor

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HEYWORTH, Ill. (WMBD) — A school district in southern McLean County changed its return to school plan, just days before the first day of classes.

Heyworth Community Unit School District #4 voted Monday night on its return to learning plan for the fall semester, only this time masks are required for all staff and students.

In July, the district announced an optional or parent’s choice masking policy, however, due to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order earlier this month, the district decided to play by the rules.

Board members voted 5 to 2 Monday on the new plan outlined by the district’s superintendent, Dr. Lisa Taylor.

“We knew from the beginning no matter what we did everybody was not going to be happy, but you have to make the decision that’s best for the district and this was just too much risk,” Taylor said.

Last Wednesday, Aug. 11 the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) threatened districts with loss of recognition if they failed to comply with the governor’s mandate. Taylor said this was not something within the best interests of the entire district.

“That affects a lot of things. For us, state and federal funding is $5 million, half of our budget. Additionally, kids’ high school diplomas this year would not be recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education,” Taylor said. “You’re no longer basically considered a school by the State board of education. In very simple terms, diplomas may not count; there are 75 seniors this year, many of them planning to go to college, that we don’t want to risk their diplomas not counting.”

The board voted 5 to 2 Monday, going back on its unanimous July decision, to make masking optional. It’s a decision Board Treasurer Russ Maas did not take lightly.

“Based on the risks versus the benefits of acting on local control and at this point, I believe the risk is too great. So with hesitation, I’ll be voting to accept Dr. Taylor’s return to learn designation tonight,” Maas said.

Many parents spoke out during public comments, asking the board to maintain its stance on parental discretion. Mother of two, Sarah Bell, said her children did not enjoy masks and even caused them to have trouble concentrating on class.

“I’m asking you to uphold your unanimous decision without fear to let parents choose what is best for their children,” Bell said.

Bell and other parents cited other districts in the state that are currently going against the governor’s mandate and ISBE. But, Taylor said despite the concerns, it was too much risk for all the district’s students.

“There may be other districts that challenge it, but that is not a position we were willing to take at this time,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the masking policy is a flexible masking policy, so it can be changed when they hear otherwise from the governor or ISBE.

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