Illinois Statehouse

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.

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.

Gov. JB 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.

On the list are two local districts: St. Anne CCSD 256, on probation as of Aug. 25; and Kankakee Trinity Academy, not recognized as of Aug. 30.

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 said. “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.