Letter from the Illinois State Board of Education

*The following message is sent on behalf of Dr. Ernesto Matias, Education Officer, at the Illinois State Board of Education* 

  

Dear Superintendent Tipsord: 

  

We hope this message finds you well as we navigate yet another year of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on our communities. As the situation with the virus continues to update, so too does our response to mitigate the damage it can cause. To that end and pursuant to Executive Order 2021-18, we have recently updated the Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools (August 2021).   The executive order and associated guidance require that masks be worn indoors by all students, staff and visitors in P-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Cases and hospitalizations have been surging among unvaccinated people, due to the Delta variant, and since children under 12 are not yet eligible for a vaccine, the mask requirement is essential to avoid outbreaks and keep all our students learning safely in-person.  

  

We are reaching out to you today because we recently received a complaint alleging that your district has chosen not to comply with the indoor masking requirements of Executive Order 2021-18.  As part of our effort to ensure that all districts are aware of and adhere to said requirements, we would like to verify whether this allegation is true.  

  

We ask that you please respond to this e-mail within twenty four (24) hours of receipt.  In your response, we ask that you specify whether or not your district is currently and will continue to be compliant with the masking provisions of Executive Order 2021-18 until such requirements change.  

  

We understand that the health and safety of your students and staff is a central concern for you, your board of education and community.  It is our hope that your district adheres to the applicable public health requirements. 

  

Sincerely, 

  

Dr. Ernesto Matias, Education Officer 

Illinois State Board of Education  

 

 

cc:           Jennifer Saba, Executive Director for Regional Services, Illinois State Board of Education   

                Jeff Aranowski, Executive Director for Safe & Healthy Climate, Illinois State Board of Education  

                Derreck Langwith, Director of ROE/ISC, Illinois State Board of Education  

 

Our Repsonse

 

 

Dr. Matias,

 

I am happy to reply to the email.  We had put out a plan consistent with the intention of the CDC, where local positivity rates were taken into consideration, local capacity to mitigate was taken into consideration, and the lived experience of those districts who were in-person all year last year was relevant.  That plan was developed collaboratively with our association, our administration, and our Board of Education as a representative group of our community.  We surveyed our public regarding the more controversial masking mitigation.  With approximately 70% of our families responding, 83% of our families believe that masking should be permissive but not mandatory.  We then worked with other districts who were also in-person throughout last year to develop a "leveled" plan that would allow us to intensify mitigations as the positivity rate or the hospitalization rate were to change.  Our Board even suggested that we refine the metrics to ensure that there was an objective measure to determine when we would move from one level to another.  We were able to accumulate data from last year in order to determine what our internal experience was last year during our worst two-week period and then set that as the metric to move to Level 3.  Level 3 mitigations would be a return to the comprehensive mitigations that we put in place last year, which allowed us to have only 1 close contact at school to have a positive test.

 

We got our students, staff, and community through last year.  We executed an effective plan and celebrated our commitment to one another in order to make it possible.  Our people trusted us and followed us through the difficulty of a year of intense mitigations, positive cases, loss of extra and co curricular experiences, exclusions from the classroom, and a complete disconnect from normalcy.  They trust us and if necessary would adjust within our levels of mitigation as required.  The Governor and the agency inspire little trust from the majority of our public.  By telling them what they must do, with no relevance given to the effort or effectiveness of what they did last year, all that was done was to alienate their willingness in this process.  Our cause was hurt by the Governor's actions.  A worthy question would have been for anyone in the Governor's office or the agency to ask schools who were in-person last year, "how were you successful, what challenges did you face, what could help others be successful as they transition to learning in-person this year, how can we help you this year?"  Would it be a terrible thing if someone who is telling us what we must do were at least a little curious about what we have already done.

 

I can't express enough how disappointed I am with the complete lack of connection by the agency to what actually takes place in our schools.  

 

To answer your actual question.  Here are the links to our public website that have our "Learning in LeRoy" Plan and two posts to the website that further clarify the relationship to the Governors order.  I assume it will be apparent, but the plan has more intensive mitigations as you move from Level 1 to Level 3. Also, attached is the original document describing our data points and methodology.  The final link is to our dashboard where we transparently share the data points for the decision making process on the mitigation levels. 

 

I am hopeful that this satisfies your request.  It is our hope that the agency becomes more curious about the good work done by so many districts and their community leaders to serve their children.  It is also our hope that you are able to understand how offensive it was of our Governor to suggest that those who lead our school districts were not appropriately concerned for the students they serve. I would encourage you to read the executive summary written in the Revised Public Health Guidance for Schools and ask yourself whether COVID is the greater threat to our children.

 

A Community Committed to One Another,

--

-- Gary R. Tipsord, Superintendent

LeRoy CUSD #2