State & local leaders react to Governor Pritzker’s mask-mandate in schools

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS, Ill. (WMBD) – Wearing face masks in Illinois schools is no longer an option, but an order.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the new statewide universal mask-mandate inside of schools during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Because there are many people across some of the districts who are reluctant to adopt the CDC’s guidance, effective immediate all P-12 schools, and daycares in Illinois must follow the CDC’s guidance of universal masking inside regardless of vaccine status,” Pritzker announced.

The new mandate comes just weeks before many school districts are scheduled to return to class.

Gov. Pritzker said the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is increasing at a high rate amongst the unvaccinated population and young people.

He said since many students aren’t eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine and in order to combat further spread, state officials can no longer delay taking action.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the Federal Centers for Disease Control prescriptions for keeping students and staff safe,” Pritzker said. “Without these measures, we would likely see many more outbreaks than in the latter half of the last school year.”

Now the governor is taking the authority away from the local school districts to decide how to implement masking in the buildings, instead, he’s requiring everyone in Illinois schools to mask up. It’s a measure applauded by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to keep our kids and grandkids, teachers, and administrators safe in the school,” Durbin said. “We’re going to have to take these measures with masks and other approaches for a long time until everybody steps up and meets their obligation to get vaccinated.”

In Central Illinois, Beth Crider, Peoria County’s Regional Superintendent, said some schools were already requiring masks and others may need to tweak their return-to-school plans.

“Several of our schools have had back-to-school plans in place, and they’ve looked different, within Peoria County depending on the communities that they serve,” Crider said. “So, you’ve had some schools do a universal masking mandate and some that were strongly recommending masking for the unvaccinated as so now as usual schools are ready to be flexible and ready to pivot as needed.”

She said the universal mask mandate does provide more consistency.

“At the end of the day, your public schools want students to be safe but more importantly we want our students back in the buildings for face-to-face instruction and this just allows us the opportunity to do it in the safest way possible,” Crider said.

She said some schools that were not requiring masks may have to have a special board meeting to reconsider policies and align them with the governor’s new orders.

Scott Dearman, Superintendent of the Dunlap School District 323, said “the one size fits all” mandate may not work for all communities in the entire state, and he called the governor’s sudden decision discouraging.

“It’s a little disappointing in that at one point he was very adamant about stressing local control and allowing those decisions to be determined at the local level, by not only local administration but local school boards, and now that direction seems to have reversed and that local control no longer exists,” Dearman said.

Dunlap was one school district originally encouraging masking, but making it optional before the mandate came down. Dearman said it’s also upsetting the mandate is coming so close to the start of the school year, and said they’ll have to adjust their plans as needed.

“The perimeters from which we drew up our return to school plans have now changed and obviously, that’s going to require another discussion on how that impacts our plan to move forward and what we’re going to need to adjust in order to have our plan be successful,” Dearman said.

“I was hoping that this year would have been different from last year and that we’d have been given more time to make these types of adjustments, but we will, we’ll adjust accordingly and move forward,” he said.

Gov. Pritzker said if schools choose to defy the mandate, there could be possible enforcement measures, including potential lawsuits from the public or the Illinois State Board of Education revoking their recognition.

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