Just days after an Illinois judge ruled in favor of a private suburban Christian school whose status was revoked for flouting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school mask mandate, the State Board of Education this week changed course on a policy that had instantly labeled noncompliant private schools “nonrecognized,” while granting public schools defying the order a 60-day probation period.
Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said Tuesday the state board’s “priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of students and educators.”
“Moving nonpublic schools to probation instead of nonrecognition gives schools more time to work with ISBE on coming into compliance,” Matthews said.
ISBE officials now will reach out to private schools defying the order to schedule a conference to discuss compliance issues, Matthews said, with the schools required to submit a “corrective plan” within 60 days.
Kendall County Judge Stephen Krentz last week ordered ISBE to temporarily reinstate Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville, which is among the private schools that have recently lost their status and been deemed nonrecognized for refusing to comply with the governor’s school mask order.
In his ruling, Krentz targeted the state board’s separate standards, saying the “guidelines and procedures for recognizing nonpublic schools may necessarily be different than the guidelines for recognizing public schools, but they may not be more burdensome.”
“Parkview has raised a fair question in this regard,” he wrote.
ISBE officials appeared to have quietly amended the separate standards policy, with officials last week naming roughly eight private schools resisting the order as “nonrecognized,” while four public school districts found to be violating the mask mandate were recorded as “on probation.”
On Tuesday, eight private schools were listed with the notation, “The school’s status was moved from ‘nonrecognized’ to ‘on probation’ on Oct. 1,” according to ISBE public records.
The state board’s recent rule change without explanation was troubling to some lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Donald DeWitte of St. Charles, who said he first learned of the amended policy Tuesday from the Tribune.
“While I am pleased to see ISBE taking steps to level the playing field between public and nonpublic schools with regard to the governor’s mask mandate, several questions remain,” DeWitte said. “I learned that ISBE had changed course from a reporter and not through any legislative channel. Was a new emergency rule issued that no one has seen? Or did ISBE arbitrarily just change its approach again without any legislative oversight just like the governor has done all along?”
Republican Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove agreed, and said he was “pleased to see that ISBE changed course from its heavy-handed tactic, which denied due process to private schools and the students that attend them.”
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ISBE Superintendent Carmen Ayala this fall has warned that failing to comply with the state’s mask mandate will result in the removal of a private school’s “status as a recognized nonpublic school, effective immediately.”
As a result, nonrecognized private schools will be ineligible to participate in Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association sanctioned sports and barred from partaking in the Invest in Kids Act tax scholarship program, Ayala wrote.
Officials said the board has regulatory authority to reduce the recognition status of any school district exhibiting “deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff.”
Public school districts declining to follow the mask mandate are first put on probation, and then asked to schedule a conference to discuss compliance issues, with the district required to submit a plan within 60 days — the same policy that now also applies to Illinois private schools.
If no plan is submitted or approved, ISBE may change the status of the district, or of the affected schools, to “nonrecognized,” they said.
Last week, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement that the Kendall County ruling would not affect the way ISBE approaches enforcement of the mandate, saying “there is no reason for nonpublic or public schools to ignore the common sense public health guidelines recommended by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and medical professionals.”
“Compliance with the state’s mask mandate helps keep students and teachers safe, aids in the reduction of community transmission of COVID-19, and positions schools — both nonpublic and public — to avoid the consequences of failing to adhere to public health requirements.”
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