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By Carmen Ensinger
North Greene School conducted a special school board meeting on Aug. 11 to discuss the Governor’s decision to mandate all students and staff must wear masks while inside school buildings during the coming school year.
After a spirited debate, with views expressed by both sides, the board, by a 4-1 vote, voted to follow the CDC and IDPH guidelines and the Governor’s mandate and require masks be worn by teachers and students while inside the buildings this coming school year. Voting for the masks were: Rachelle Malin, Karen Daniels, Casey Kallal and Casey Nell. The lone no vote was Board President Stacey Schutz. Absent from the meeting were board members Cale Hoesman and Kevin Nichols.
Schutz explained why she felt she had no choice but to be opposed to students being forced to wear masks.
“When I took the oath to become a school board member, line five says ‘I shall accept the responsibility of my role of providing an equitable quality education of every student in the district,’” she said. “And I cannot vote for mandatory masks as an equitable and quality education of these kids. It is just not right. Maybe the young kids are a little more adaptable, but the high school kids – it is ruining their high school experience.”
Schutz thinks by the time a student reaches high school they are old enough to make the decision for themselves
“By the time they get to high school, they are wise enough to make that choice, or at least their parents are wise enough that if they are sick they shouldn’t be at school,” she said. “Or, if they have been sick, maybe make them wear a mask for a couple of days when they get back just in case, but they need their parents and themselves to make that choice, not us and not the Governor with a statewide mandate that has nothing to do with us. We don’t follow the same metrics as the big cities like Chicago and we shouldn’t be the ones to make this decision for them.”
Schutz pointed to a second reason.
“The other part says ‘I shall strive to ensure the continued assessment of student achievement and all conditions affecting the education of our children in conjunction with state law,’” she said. “This isn’t state law. House Bill 2789 has been put out to take control away from our school and give it to state government and it won’t pass because they know that is not what we want.”
Schutz thinks the Governor is just bluffing with all his threats.
“I don’t think they are going to defund all the schools in the state that are standing up for ourselves,” she said. “My personal opinion is that we will be just fine if we go with the ‘recommended’ we have in our back to school plan now and not force the kids to wear a mask. Anybody who has been around livestock knows if you have sick animals you take the sick out of the group, not the healthy ones. So, I am asking you all to consider going with recommended and not mandatory.”
Board Member Karen Daniels has been following all of the political rhetoric and doing research on her own.
“I have listened to parents and I have a daughter of my own, and while I don’t want her to have to wear a mask either, I have been doing a lot of research on the consequences of a district our size to buck the system to make a political statement,” she said. “I will say that he (Gov. Pritzker) is our governor and right now he has issued a mandate and I am looking at things like what our consequences could be for going against that mandate. He can pull our insurance coverage for tort immunity. I personally can be held responsible. All it takes is one big lawsuit to do our district in financially.”
Board Member Casey Kallal was in agreement, at least partially, with Daniels.
“School starts on Aug. 17, so why can’t we go with the mandate now and see where we are at after a month,” she said. “I’m not opposed to bucking the system – just not at this point. Our numbers have gone up and you do see an increase in the first couple weeks of school. Maybe if we can get through the first month of school and reevaluate where are numbers are at and make a decision about keeping the masks at the September meeting.”
Schutz asked Kallal if she would see herself making a decision to buck the system at that meeting.
“Yes, I would consider it,” Kallal said. “But, right now, I am a little concerned with things.”
Daniels said there were other things to consider other than just being sued, such as financing.
“What I’m looking at is the consequences for our school,” she said. “If we lose our accreditation by not following the mandate, they could withhold our funding, including over $3 million in ESSER funding due us in this last round and whatever we stand to get in the future. We are using that money to help better our school and I would hate to lose out or even jeopardize getting any of that or having to fight to get it back.”
Then there is the issue of sports.
“If we lose our accreditation, then we lose our memberships into the IESA and IHSA,” Daniels said. “That means we would not be able to participate in any of our school sports. Overall, when I look at everything from the lawsuits, to the possibility of losing funding, I just don’t feel it is in our best interest as a small school district to be the ones to stand up in a manner that goes against a mandate from the governor.”
Daniels said that it is better to let those who represent them lead the fight.
“We have a school board association that can fight for those political views with us,” she said. “I know there are a lot of superintendents in Southern Illinois that are working together to try and go about it in a different way to kind of change the way things come down and try to get us back to local control and local decision making.”
Board Member Casey Nell feels it is unfair that board members should even have to make this decision.
“It frustrates me to be sitting here having this debate and to be put in this position by our politicians,” he said. “I wish the governor would have engaged the legislature in this debate and not us, but he chose not to do that. We have mandates, and, right, wrong, or indifferent, we follow them. At the end of the day, I acknowledge the oath we took, but part of that oath is to represent the taxpayers and I am representing those people.”
Board Member Rachelle Malin was the last to voice her opinion and said, even after listening to her fellow board members, said she still didn’t feel qualified to make this decision for other people. She admitted she is not a mask wear and that her three kids also hate wearing masks.
“However, we took an oath to protect this district and school and I don’t know, at this time, that we can go against this mandate,” she said. “This is just how I feel. I’m in a position where I’m not going to do it just because the Governor said to do it. I’m going to do it because of our local numbers. I think we need to listen to our local people because our numbers are rising. We have to keep looking at our numbers. I don’t want our kids going back to remote learning because when that happens they are getting no interaction at all. I want to keep our schools open and if it takes wearing masks to make that happen, then so be it.”
Kallal said she would like to revisit the situation after a month and Schutz said she agreed.
“This is unfair for our community for us to make this decision,” Schutz said. “I will have it on every agenda until we have the parents making the decision.”