CLINTON — Opponents of the mask mandate passionately addressed the Clinton school board on Aug. 17 to express their opposition to Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker's directive for public school students.
Approximately 70 people were in attendance, most mask less, with several addressing the board for about an hour, requesting them to defy the state's order.
Prior to the parental pleas, Superintendent Curt Nettles read a statement explaining the board had previously announced masking would be optional for students and staff for the 2021-22 school year. However, on Aug. 4, the governor announced the change.
After seeking input from attorneys, professional organizations and insurance companies, the district was advised to follow the mandate, said Nettles.
"Legal experts agree an executive order has full force of the law," he said. "The state board is serious about this."
Nettles said he will continually monitor the situation by staying in touch with school district's medical staff, community health services and the DeWitt County health department to help make the "best and safest decisions for the district when or if we are allowed to make those decisions ourselves."
Nettles has joined a coalition of superintendents across the state to share ideas and strategy to oppose the mandate. He planned to personally address the Illinois State Board of Education about the matter on Wednesday in Springfield.
Parent Kendra Hunt told the board about her 7-year-old son, Mason, who is starting his second year at Clinton Elementary School. In 2017, Mason was non-verbal and had social anxiety, however with "hard work he showed progress one word at a time." Even before masks, Hunt said her son faced challenging obstacles. However, with the mandated masks she expressed concern that his progress will slow.
"I'm an emotional father right now," added Brian Miller when he spoke of his kindergarten student who hadn't had the opportunity to meet her teacher and his 9-year-old who fought acne last year due to mask wearing.
"We need to figure out a better plan," said Miller.
"I am angry," said parent Jenny Rudat. "I am angry that the governor of Illinois and the state board of education have put us in this position."
"I am angry that as a nation we have been brainwashed into thinking that we have to abandon our freedoms under mandates and a manufactured state of emergency."
"We made the decision to make masks optional," said board president Dan Matthews. "But right now we have to operate under the executive order. We're not happy with it."
"I want to be a help," said Nettles, adding he agrees with the parents but, "my responsibility here at this moment in time is a different scenario. I hope you understand that."
A parent in the audience asked what the repercussions could be if the district were to defy the mandate.
According to Nettles, non-compliance could give the district "non-recognition" from the state board of education and funding--including federal grants and state aide--could be taken away.
"As the regulating agency set up by the legislature, they could exclude the district," he added.
In addition, Nettles said the state board of education could not recognize graduates and the school would be excluded from the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA).
"We're with you 100 percent," said board member Tammie Ennis.
"I have a student in this school district and I'm emotional because I'm angry," added board secretary Sondra Baker. I'm mad as hell, like the rest of you. We're standing with you."
"That man right there," said Baker as she pointed to Nettles, "is your biggest ally, don't fight him. He loves this school district, and he loves these kids."
"So, I beg of you to support us and help us support you."