JCAR to question ISBE’s mask mandate authority today at hearing

JCAR to question ISBE’s mask mandate authority today at hearing

CHICAGO, IL — Illinois state lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules are expecting to hear from Illinois State Board of Education representatives about the agency’s authority to punish schools for not following the governor’s mask mandate for schools.

Since the governor announced a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools, 62 schools made masks optional. Faced with punishment, including the withholding of state funds and loss of accreditation, 48 schools are back in compliance with 14 still out of compliance, according to the most recent data from ISBE’s website.

State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said JCAR members wanted ISBE representatives at the committee’s meeting last month, but ISBE was holding its monthly board meeting and didn’t show. Representatives are expected at Tuesday’s JCAR hearing.

“And again, our question all along had been: Does ISBE have the authority simply under a governor’s executive order to enforce a mandate for funding without legislative cause/” DeWitte said.

ISBE didn’t return multiple messages seeking comment ahead of Tuesday’s JCAR hearing.

The mandate isn’t just for public schools, but also private schools, with several on ISBE’s list having their recognition status revoked.

DeWitte wants to get to the bottom of “under what authority they felt they had to restrict funding to school districts that chose not to implement that mandate.”

A House bill filed earlier this month, House Bill 4135, would give ISBE such authority. The new bill raises more questions, DeWitte said.

“I wonder if this is not just an attempt to cover up the fact that they did not have or do not have the authority to restrict funding to school districts across the state,” DeWitte said.

Sponsor of House Bill 4135, state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., D-Chicago, said his measure would clear up any question about ISBE’s authority.

“It just reinforces and adds policy to it,” Gonzalez said. “It just removes any ambiguity to it and just puts it explicitly into statute.”

DeWitte doesn’t see it that way.

“Well, he might call it ambiguity, I prefer to look at it as perhaps ISBE being caught exercising a little more authority than they might legally have,” DeWitte said.

JCAR’s meeting is set for 11 a.m. in Chicago.