Vandalia to begin schools with optional mask policy: Area school districts sign joint letter to state officials

Many area lead educators have co-signed letters to Governor J. B. Pritzker and Illinois Superintendent of Schools Carmen Ayala, requesting that local schools district decide their own standards in Terms of COVID-19 safety measures.

The letter requests that local jurisdictions be allowed to implements their own measures and protocols regarding the coronavirus when schools return.

Some districts have already voted in a no-mask mandate policy, including Patoka, doing away with all COVID restrictions and rules.

The letters, were signed by most districts and education regions in Fayette County, including: Jennifer Garrison, Vandalia CUSD 203; Melissa Ritter, Ramsey CUSD #204; Julie Healy, St. Elmo CUSD #202; Kerry Herdes, South Central CUSD 401; Julie Wollerman, Regional Office of Education; Robert Koontz, Mulberry Grove CUSD #1; Seth Schuler, Cowden-Herrick CUSD 3A; and Casey Adam, Altamont CUSD 10.

The letters state that local boards and superintendents are “best positioned and capable of planning reasonable and safe approaches to educate the students of our communities. The past 16 months have provided us with ample experience and knowledge to lead locally with your support.”

The letters continue that Goal 2 of the strategic plan for the state board of education is that “All school districts will receive resources necessary to create safe, healthy, and welcoming learning environments, and will be equipped to meet the unique academic and social needs of each and every student.”

The letters also mention the method which the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will do this is to “Support district implementation of policy and guidance to promote students’ safety and well-being, including non-discrimination and inclusion.”

The signees state that “The guidance provided must not a one-size-fits-all solution” and that the state is a “large, diverse state filled with diverse school districts that educate students with unique needs and different barriers to learning. A plan that may be sensible and effective in one school district may not be sensible and effective in other districts.”

No response to the letter has been reported as of late last week.

On Sunday, Dr. Jennifer Garrison, superintendent of Vandalia Community School District #203, released the following statement on the district’s website:

Good evening. I am pleased to announce that CDC/IDPH/ISBE recognizes local control during Phase 5 as stated in the following paragraph. “Together with local public health officials, school administrators should consider multiple factors when they make decisions about implementing layered prevention strategies against COVID-19. Since schools typically serve their surrounding communities, decisions should be based on the school population, families, and students served, as well as their communities”. The 21-22 school year will begin with a mask optional policy based on our current conditions. We removed layers of mitigations one at a time during the 20-21 school year as we returned to in person learning 5 days a week during the second semester. We are in an excellent place to take this next step. We will continue to monitor the health of our students and staff and adjust accordingly if needed. Enjoy the rest of your summer and see you in August!