Illinois superintendents unite, ask state to let local districts decide COVID-19 regulations

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Across the state, school leaders are looking for guidance when it comes to handling COVID-19.

Many superintendents are appealing to the state to allow those decisions to be left up to local bodies.

More than 200 Illinois superintendents have sent letters asking the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and elected leaders to let individual districts decide what works best for their districts when it comes to COVID-19 regulations.

Superintendents Dr. Barry Reilly, Bloomington District 87, and Dr. Lisa Taylor, Heyworth CUSD #4, said districts have differences, even within the same county, that need to be accounted for.

Reilly said Tuesday he signed multiple letters to the state, all asking the same thing: let locals decide what works in local districts.

“It allows us to look at our own data [and] take into account what’s going on in our community and the factors associated with that to make our local decisions,” Reilly said. “We think we’re the most knowledgeable of our own local contexts. Obviously, we want to do that in collaboration with health experts like the local McLean Co Health Department, and we certainly will as we get closer to the start of the school year.”

The letters have been addressed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and State Superintendent of Education Carmen I. Ayala as well as the ISBE. Dr. Taylor said the letters state that local board members and superintendent are the most knowledgeable and are capable of making decisions in regard to the pandemic, such as mask requirements or cutting down classes.

“Our school board members are locally elected, they know the community better than anyone else and we wanted to have a collective voice and say its time to give us some of this leadership back,” Taylor said.

There are more than 800 public school districts in the state of Illinois and because of that, Taylor said a “one-size fits all” approach doesn’t work for every district.

“Districts are very unique throughout the state. We have different resources [and] we have different communities,” Taylor said.

Reilly said right now, district leaders are discussing their plans for a return to class in August, but are waiting to make any concrete decisions. Reilly said they are expecting the governor to issue an updated executive order within the coming weeks.

“If we put something out and things change or have to change as a result of that, then we’ve got to walk that back, and it just confuses people,” Reilly said.

As of right now, Taylor said the board has discussed making masks optional in school buildings this year. She said their schools weren’t the sites of large virus outbreaks, and principals can only enforce the masking policy so much.

Reilly said with the current Centers for Disease Control and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines, schools do have flexibility.

Both Reilly and Taylor hope it stays that way, as both students in Bloomington and Heyworth can expect a more “normal” looking school year this fall.

To be clear, the CDC, the governor’s office and the State Board of Education have all said the relaxed mask recommendations are not a mandate.

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