I was raised by good people, who taught me to respect authority and live by the laws of my land. And so I do. Therefore I respect the office of the governor, and your right and obligation to govern, once elected.
I write to you today, not to speak of politics, or on which side of the aisle either of us resides, or even to comment on any particular piece of legislation.
Today I simply reach out to you with a question.
To help you understand where I am coming from, you should know I am married to an Illinois school administrator. I have stood by his side for twenty-eight years–through his journey as a first generation college student, to becoming a teacher, then a building principal, and then a superintendent committed to working in small towns to provide education and hope for the very student population that he came from. He now serves in east central Illinois in a town that we both love dearly, and his commitment to helping people see how education can change a life has never wavered.
I don’t want you to feel as if my question is just a hot-button response to change, or the inability to adapt to a shifting educational landscape. In our decades in education, I would not dare to say we have seen it all, but we have seen a lot, and we have always adjusted through it.
There are the small things, like a grown adult falling apart on social media because their name was not frosted onto a retirement cake, to angst over playing time and coaching, to the larger issues like how to provide quality education through budget shortfalls and teacher shortages. Through the issues and decades I have seen incredible challenges and incredible rewards. Of course there has never been a single school year in which everyone agreed on anything, and I understand that. If there are two people in a room, you can bet there are also two differing opinions.
And people feel strongly, especially when advocating for their children or themselves. This is good.
Then came COVID-19. And masking, and quarantines, and remote learning, and then ground-breaking vaccines. Our incredible teachers and administrators adjusted their perspectives, plans, and teaching style virtually overnight, and found their way through a maze of technology and the unforeseen to do what they do best–teach kids.
My husband and I got our vaccinations as soon as we were eligible, and we were very excited to get back to in-person teaching, and help our kids make up for any ground lost during this crisis. Just prior to the beginning of the 21/22 school year, you issued a mask mandate for all K-12 schools. Then came your vaccination or weekly testing mandate.
As with all controversial issues, factions have formed. We have anti-maskers, must-maskers, anti-vaxers, must-vaxxers, anti-testers, and combinations of all of the above.
We have families that are genuinely worried about health and safety, and want everyone masked. We have families that genuinely do not want masking anywhere. We have families that believe that their students are medically at-risk if they wear a mask. We have people that are in full support of mandatory vaccines. We have people that want the liberty to make their own medical choices.
From my point of view, virtually everyone has sincere, legitimate, and impassioned reasons for their views, and I empathize with every family trying to make decisions in the best interest of their loved ones and community.
Against this backdrop that pits one group against another, administrators who favor local control have been threatened by state agencies, in accordance with your leadership, with non-negotiable outcomes, like loss of school recognition, removal of the ability to grant degrees, withholding of school funding, and inability to participate in school sanctioned sports–essentially the ruination of the districts they have pledged to serve–if they do not fully comply.
As an observer, here is my question. How do school districts comply with your mandates, and still serve the needs of every family?
I kindly request your answer in ten days. This is the same amount of time you afforded all Illinois school districts to create and manage a mandatory vaccination and testing system, after you announced its requirement, so I trust that you can come up with a workable system that serves everyone in this timeframe.
Thank you for your assistance.
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)