ST. ANNE — The St. Anne Grade School District 256 School Board voted 5-2 at a special board meeting Tuesday to implement a mask-optional policy in defiance of Gov. JB Pritzker’s universal indoor mask mandate for all pre-k –12 schools.
School started Wednesday for both the grade school and St. Anne High School. The schools share the same superintendent, Charles Stegall, but have different school boards.
The high school is still following the mandate, Stegall said.
The board’s decision to defy the order went against school administration’s recommendation, he said.
The school board for St. Anne High School passed a mask-optional resolution prior to the executive order, but it included language that a state mandate would mean bringing mitigations such as masking back into play.
Jed Beaupre, board president for the grade school, said that this was the first time he could recall in his 10 years on the board that all the members were not unanimous on a decision.
Members that voted in favor of the mask-optional policy were Tim Wendt, Louie Farber, Jed Beaupre, Gilberto Miramontes, and Lydia Leveque. "No" votes were from Barbara Emerson and Chris Tolly.
All seven members voted yes regarding the resolution to ask the state to return local control to districts.
Beaupre said the board held the special meeting after some board members expressed they were unhappy with Pritzker’s mandate taking local control from schools.
He said board members had a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of defying the executive order, along with the ramifications of the decision.
“The administration and our lawyers were very clear in saying they recommend following the mandate,” Beaupre said.
Pritzker issued the order Aug. 4 to slow the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 and prevent outbreaks in schools. The mandate enforces recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Illinois State Board of Education has so far put at least 21 school districts on probation for defying the mandate.
“If the State Board has any concerns about compliance, then we will work with the State Board to provide them with whatever information they need,” Stegall said in an email. “Any changes that might be necessary would be brought to the school board for review and response.”
State officials have said non-compliant districts stand to lose state recognition.
Failure to submit a corrective action plan after being placed on probation would lead to non-recognition status, meaning total loss of access to state funding and loss of the school’s ability to engage in any Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association athletic competitions.
“We will deal with those [consequences] as they come,” Beaupre said. “I think most board members understand this is probably a temporary thing, but we will keep masks optional as long as we can. As a small district, we cannot afford to lose funding.”
Beaupre said that although the district may inevitably have to reverse the mask-optional policy, the purpose of passing the resolution was to set the precedent in favor of local control.
Before the executive order, the district surveyed its parents and 87 percent indicated they were in favor of having masks optional, Beaupre said.
“Our hopes are that more boards decide to do this to show ISBE and the governor that we need to have local control,” he said.