BOURBONNAIS — The Bourbonnais School Board voted to sign onto a letter arguing for local control in schools and talked about other possible ways of pushing the issue during its recent meeting.
The editorial letter, published Sept. 18 in the Daily Journal, was signed by school officials from 84 schools throughout the state, including Superintendent Adam Ehrman.
Board President Jayne Raef said the Bourbonnais Elementary community wanted a choice in the matter of wearing masks in schools. The board voted to give them that choice before Gov. JB Pritzker issued the mandate.
“I’ve been on the board for 14 and a half years, and in that time, this board has been faced with many difficult and sometimes painful decisions,” she said. “Constituent response has always been part of every difficult decision I have made.”
Vice President Stephan Moulton noted that the board unanimously passed a resolution in July emphasizing local decisions on COVID-19 mitigations based on community metrics.
“Without local control, there’s no reason to hold this meeting and ISBE should be here conducting this themselves,” he said.
Board member Erika Young added that local control is not just about masks or vaccines; she also takes issue with mandates regarding school curriculum.
“It directly impacts our children’s education if the governor or the government of our state is controlling our curriculum on a local level,” she said.
In addition to signing onto the letter, discussion on “possible legal options regarding the governor’s executive orders” was also on the agenda.
Moulton said he requested the discussion because he feels it is something the board needs to consider.
“Do we want mandate after mandate, after mandate after mandate?” he said. “Or do we want to take some kind of action toward the governor that says we’re done with so many mandates, and we want not only a letter of local control, but are we ready to take another step?”
Raef said that the board has made it clear where members stand on the issue of local control, and now, she feels they need to do something.
“I almost feel like our civil rights are being impaired in that we were elected to perform a duty as a board of education that they are now usurping; they are usurping by fiat,” she said. “I think if we don’t say no, that’s ours, and if we have already said that we preferred to support local control, then we can either pay lip service to that, or we can put rubber to the road.”
Ehrman said that there are different groups forming around this issue, including the group of school leaders that penned the letter, and some within that group who already passed resolutions to file lawsuits against Pritzker. Others are discussing possible action on behalf of a group of districts.
Board members agreed that they are in favor of local control, but they wanted more information on the options and possible consequences before getting involved in any sort of litigation.
Ehrman said the group of school leaders discussed that they were all facing the same dilemma of not being able to make decisions based on what’s going on in their communities, like they were able to do last year.
He said the group was looking to get superintendents and boards to sign onto the letter to grab the attention of state officials, as it would be easier to dismiss a letter from just one district.
“Every single day was a struggle last year, because our decisions were whether or not we were going to have school tomorrow, and that was like waking up on Groundhog Day, but it was not a fun day every day to prove why you should be in school and why you’re not out of school,” he said. “When that got flipped on its head this year that we don’t make any of those decisions, we’re dealing with all those implications and yet we don’t get to make any choices in it.”