BRADLEY — Bradley Elementary School District 61 and Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School District 307 are two of the latest local districts to weigh signing onto a letter pushing back against state mandates.
The letter, published Sept. 18 as a letter to the editor in the Daily Journal, was crafted on behalf of a group of Illinois school districts and signed at the time by officials from 84 schools throughout the state.
Among the signatures was Bourbonnais Elementary School District 53 Superintendent Adam Ehrman. The Bourbonnais Elementary School Board later voted to add the names of its board members as well.
Others on the list included superintendents and school boards from Gardner South Wilmington High School and Clifton Central CUSD.
“It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s about all of the decisions that have been taken out of local hands by those who are all too distant from the resulting fallout,” the letter argues in closing. “Enough is enough. Absolutely, it is the principle of the thing. Please, restore local control and accountability to our communities and those of us who know them best.”
At a Bradley Elementary School Board meeting last week, the board voted to add board members’ names to the letter in addition to a signature from District 61 Superintendent Scott Goselin.
Goselin said he wanted to add their names to “give us a chance to make decisions and not have these mandates put upon us.”
He recalled that in July 2021, before the state mandates, the board passed a resolution in favor of local control.
Board member Tim Johnson read a statement sharing his thoughts on the state mask and vaccine mandates coming down to schools.
Johnson said he feels he has always made decisions in the best interest of students and teachers — until recently.
“I feel like I was in a way forced to [enforce the mandates] by threats by our governor to lose sports, accreditation and funding,” he said.
“I personally feel the need to unite and be there for each other, rather than divide and discriminate,” Johnson continued. “We can work better and happier and be a stronger school by being supportive of each other and uniting. I will personally no longer let the government control my decision of what I personally feel is best for the children or the teachers I was elected to serve for.”
At a BBCHS School Board meeting last week, District 307 Superintendent Matt Vosberg also brought up the letter and asked board members if they wanted to add their names.
The board didn’t vote on signing the letter but discussed the pros and cons. After the meeting, Vosberg said he and the board would likely be adding their names to the letter.
Board members also discussed taking further steps, such as drafting their own letter and contacting state legislators.
Vosberg said that school officials around the state have been adding their names to the letter in an attempt to persuade the Illinois State Board of Education to give districts and school boards more control over local decisions.
Even if the letter does not accomplish that goal, it still makes a statement, he said.
“Do I think it’s going to influence decision making in Springfield? No, but it is an opportunity for the board to show the community that we are looking for more local control,” Vosberg said.
Board member Jennifer Edmonds said that the board should make it clear that its support of local control does not mean it is deciding to change any particular policy, as signing the letter could give the wrong impression.
Vosberg said that the intention of signing the letter is simply that districts want to make choices for themselves.
“It doesn’t mean we are changing anything, but it means that we want the ability to have that autonomy,” he said.
Vosberg added that he has also been connecting with local legislators who could have influence over policy, such as Rep. Jackie Haas and Sen. Patrick Joyce.
Board President Justin Caldwell noted that the board could write its own letter as well, which may make more of an impact than just signing onto a “bandwagon” letter.
“I think if we are concerned about local control and want to make a statement, I feel relationships with local legislators and drafting our own letter is a stronger way than just jumping on the letter,” Caldwell said.
Board member Todd Kuntz added that he was in favor of signing the letter.
“I think we need to start somewhere,” he said. “We’ve got to do something to get some of this power back.”