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New bill would give ISBE authority to punish schools that don’t follow COVID rules

Critics say bill shows ISBE doesn't have that power yet

(The Center Square) – Nearly 60 schools have been put on probation or listed as not recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education for failing to follow a statewide mask mandate for schools.

Some locally elected school boards have since complied, but a parents’ rights group says it is government overreach.

This comes as a measure filed at the statehouse would give ISBE the ability to revoke a school’s recognition status for not following COVID-19 rules signals to some that the governor and ISBE don’t yet have that authority.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all schools to mandate masks after many local school boards made masking optional.

He’s been adamant ISBE will punish schools that don’t comply. Pritzker says the move is meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

Publicly listed through the ISBE website, 59 schools didn’t comply and were placed on probation or listed as not recognized, potentially threatening state funding for those schools. If they comply, the state can restore recognition.

As of Friday, 40 schools were listed as still on probation or not recognized.

Awake Illinois Founder Shannon Adcock said private schools and locally elected school boards, big and small, are being coerced by the state.

“And it’s wrong,” Adcock said. “It’s just created such a disillusionment among the Illinois citizenry about what we’re up against.”

State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., D-Chicago, filed House Bill 4135 on Friday to give ISBE the authority to revoke the standing of a district for not following health rules during times of disaster declared by the governor. Gonzalez couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said Gonzalez’s bill signals to him that ISBE doesn’t have the authority to punish schools for not following the mandate.

“I think this is an admission, at least upon Rep. Gonzalez that the governor’s executive order doesn’t have the force of law when it comes to this particular thing,” Butler told WMAY. “If he’s introducing legislation to make it law, then the executive order doesn’t have the force of law. Look, these decisions need to be made locally in my opinion.”

ISBE didn’t return a message seeking comment about HB4135 or Butler’s comments.

For Adcock, Gonzalez’s bill also seems to be an admission.

“The Illinois State Board of Education does not in fact have the power to revoke recognition status of schools [over COVID orders],” Adcock said. “So they’re trying to retroactively cover their bases, cover their tracks.”

Adcock said the measure also seems to nearly mirror of House Bill 2789, which passed the House April 22 just after 11 p.m. By the time it got to a hearing in a Senate committee, more than 16,700 people and organizations filed witness slips opposing HB2789.

Gonzalez’s HB4135 has yet to be assigned to a committee.

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