Want local control? Work with, not against, your school board

Payson School Board

People file into the old elementary school gymnasium before Monday's Payson School Board meeting. David Adam

Remember the scene in the movie “Talladega Nights” when Ricky Bobby is arguing with the owner of his racing team and says, “With all due respect” before makes a disparaging remark?

The owner replies, “Just because you say that doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me!”

And Ricky Bobby replies, “It sure as hell does!”

Too many times in the past month, speakers at school board meetings throughout Adams County have followed Ricky Bobby’s lead when it comes to debating masks in schools. As they address the volunteers who comprise local school boards, many speakers begin with, “I understand your job is a difficult one, and I really appreciate the work you do, but … “

Then they express their frustration, shamelessly chastising school board members that any decision that goes along with Gov. JB Pritzker’s mask mandate is the wrong one. School board members have been told, among other things, they are denying a child’s education, sacrificing kids for the well-being of adults and causing social and emotional issues that open the door to PTSD and suicide. One woman threatened to sue her school board because her religious freedom is being breached.

Care to guess why school board members recently have quit at Payson and Liberty?

Before voting at last Thursday’s meeting of the Central School Board, Chris Marlow said the past few months have been the most difficult of his six-year tenure on the board.

“Everybody’s tired of it, and it’s really putting us in a hard position,” he said. “I mean, we all see Facebook or we’re on Facebook. It’s your wife telling you, ‘Did you see this? Did you see what she put on there?’ I don’t want to hear no more. I’m just so tired of it.”

School board members often are told the public will “have their back” if they vote against masks. They are told they are “indemnified and protected” by Illinois law, which protects school districts against parents filing personal injury lawsuits.

However, the Tort Immunity Act goes on to say school members are protected unless it can be proven “an act constitutes willful or wanton conduct” and deliberate indifference to a known risk. Does voting to ignore the governor’s mandate to wear masks qualify as “willful or wanton conduct”? As a volunteer school board member, would you be willing accept that risk to find out?

This debate isn’t about masks. It’s about control. Many people don’t want the governor, or any state or federal government for that matter, to tell them what to put in their body or what to cover their face with. 

Those passionate people bleating to school boards about “drawing a line” and “standing up for their rights” are talking to the wrong people.

Take your concerns to your state representative or your state senator. Ask them to change the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act that clearly gives Pritzker the power to declare a disaster or state of emergency as he wishes. (He is following guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control, and he’s not the only governor doing this.)

Hannibal Regional CEO Todd Ahrens recently pleaded with people to get the vaccine because beds are at a premium. The number of COVID cases in Adams County was in double digits in early June when mask mandates were lifted. That number rose to more than 700 in early August. How high must that number go for an emergency to exist?

House Bill 2789, pending in the General Assembly, appears to be designed to, as local attorney David Penn said, put “guardrails” on disaster declarations and create a set of metrics that must be reached before such a declaration can be made.

Pritzker’s mandate strips local school boards of the ability to make local decisions about masks in their schools. If they do, state funding is in jeopardy and their diplomas are not recognized by the ISBE. After a 60-day probationary period, a school’s athletic teams are not allowed to play Illinois High School Association contests.

Want control? Stop blaming your school board. They only deserve your respect.

Maybe the 35 school districts across the state voting against masks should gather. Fight the Illinois State Board of Education instead. To steal a quote from Sitting Bull, a famous Indian leader during the 1800s: “As individual fingers, we can easily be broken, but all together we make a mighty fist.”

Rather than denigrate the attorneys who are merely giving school boards their interpretation of state law, ask the school board if those same attorneys could advise them for how to approach solving this issue through litigation at the state level.

Rather than ask school boards to fight for you in court, why not fight for yourself in court? 

The father of a student attending school in Breese recently filed a lawsuit in Clinton County. He argues Pritzker does not have the legal authority to punish schools for not following guidance from state agencies.

Two women in McHenry County have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to block Pritzker’s school mask mandate. The plaintiffs argue that Pritzker’s latest disaster proclamations are void because “there is no public health emergency and no disaster.” (The case since has been moved to Sangamon County.)

Those who want control should consider what Chanse Barker with the Payson School Board said Monday night.

“The bad thing about sitting up here is it’s not just what you want, because believe me, I don’t like masks,” he said. “I don’t want my kids wearing masks. Nobody who’s sitting up here with us does either. But I’ve listened to, ‘They can’t do this. They can’t do that.’ After a three-hour meeting with a lawyer, it’s very disheartening to know you’re beat.

“What’s not been mentioned tonight is the teachers. (If) we’re not following a state mandate, the teachers’ union by all rights has a great case for no teacher walking through that door. It is an unsafe workplace. I worry about losing them.

“Our next step to fight this is through litigation and getting more schools to deal with this. This really hurts, because I feel like the vote that I want to do has been taken away from me. But you have to think about everybody. I don’t want you to think we rolled over and just gave up.

“Right now, we’ve got to go a different way.”

Stop fighting your local school board. They’re your neighbor, not your opponent.

Stand up for yourself. Maybe you can even make a fist.

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