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Freeport lawmaker files bill to allow local officials to determine a school’s masking policy

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School Masks

FREEPORT (WREX) — A Freeport lawmaker wants the state to let local school boards and health departments determine if students and staff should wear masks at school.

Rep. Andrew Chesney (R) filed HB 4131 on Friday.

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The legislation would give a school board or the governing board of a public or nonpublic school the authority to determine, in consultation with the local health department, the ability to implement mask-wearing requirements for school staff, students, and visitors when the governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency related to COVID-19.

“I don’t believe that my local administrators are less qualified to make decisions about their students and their classrooms than the Chicago-based Superintendent of Schools for Illinois,” said Chesney. “I do not believe that IDPH knows more about proper mitigation protocols for local locations than the local health administrators who work and live here. We pay these people to apply their hard-earned first-hand knowledge to benefit our community and not to simply follow orders from bureaucrats outside our communities.”

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced a mask mandate for schools on Aug. 4. The governor's announcement came one week after Illinois adopted the updated CDC's masking recommendations, which included recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. 

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Shortly after the announcement, a letter was sent to Superintendent's across the state reinforced mask wearing at schools this year. In part, the letter says local schools and boards of educations do not have the authority to deny the governor's executive orders.

Durand CUSD 322 in Winnebago County came out and said it was going to defy the governor's mask mandate and let parents/students choose about wearing masks. A week later, the school district was placed on probation by the Illinois State Board of Education for not complying with the universal indoor masking requirement.

Durand CUSD 322 was at risk of losing recognition status, meaning total loss of access to state funding and the inability to participate in IHSA and IESA sports. 

Rep. Chesney hopes the bill be discussed during the state's Special Session on Aug. 31 to discuss the political maps.

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