Dear Governor Pritzker and Superintendent Ayala:
I write to you today to join a chorus of school officials from all parts of Illinois who ask you to rethink your recently imposed restrictions on our ongoing return to school. I want to focus not on the commonly debated topics of masks, science, and public health, but on an equally important issue that is seemingly lost here: local control and local accountability.
For decades now in Springfield, our school leadership across the state has fought one battle after another over state mandates. Our politicians at the State Capitol are often well-intentioned when they add to our daily demands over the curriculum we provide, the meals we serve, our dress codes, and much more. However, too often, they don’t realize the costs that come from these more isolated decisions.
Under COVID-19, mandates have become politically polarizing – and our students are suffering because of it.
Instead of being able to focus on the safe return to in-person schooling that we all are excited for right now, our local school superintendents and their volunteer school boards are going to war over the mask mandate. They have been pitted against their local communities. Districts are divided after heated public debates, with 5-2 and 4-3 votes on the requirement seemingly every night. No one is happy with the outcome, and these hard feelings will linger and assuredly affect our quality of education for some time to come.
Why? I can appreciate you firmly believe a mask mandate is the safest way for school to resume. Many across the state would agree with you, but many would not, and the tension is unbearable.
The beauty of local control in our school system is that it is equally met with strong local accountability. When our schools make decisions about changing school courses, hours, sports, and anything else, these decisions are not made from behind a desk hundreds of miles away from those impacted by the decisions. They are face to face with and held accountable by the families that they serve. If they land on the wrong side of a decision, without divisive and polarizing outside influence, they are able to carefully work together and move appropriately to resolve it.
As you have heard from many of my colleagues recently, each district is best equipped to make the decisions locally to safely and effectively educate their children – and to be accountable for those decisions. Please do not use this opportunity to “double down” on districts that do not agree with the mandate, as you will only force many to dig in deeper and further distract us from our number one job: educating our children.
I do appreciate the many long hours and difficult decisions you have had to make throughout the pandemic. This is a historic challenge, and we have much to be proud about for how we have all stepped up to answer the challenge.
Now more than ever, our kids need to see adults in the room across the state settle their differences and put the focus back on their future. We cannot do that as long as our leaders in Springfield govern by mandate. Please reconsider giving local control and local accountability back to our districts today. I am available and glad to talk further at your earliest convenience.
Yours in Education,