Schools with mask mandates go remote while mask-optional private schools continue in-person

(Greg Bishop | The Center Square) – The Illinois State Board of Education has school districts without COVID-19 mask mandates on its naughty list. The private schools listed continue in-person…

(Greg Bishop | The Center Square) – The Illinois State Board of Education has school districts without COVID-19 mask mandates on its naughty list. The private schools listed continue in-person learning. No such list exists for the public schools complying with masks that are now telling kids to stay home for remote learning.

ISBE’s most recent update of school recognition status this week lists seven private schools as recommended for nonrecognition after weeks of being on probation. Hutsonville CUSD #1, the only public school listed, is still on probation.

“ISBE will continue to take swift action to ensure compliance with the public health requirements that are in place to protect the health and safety of students and educators and to ensure students can continue to learn safely in-person,” a spokesperson for ISBE said via email in October.

Of the private schools contacted Thursday by The Center Square, all said despite not mandating masks, they’ve had students in classrooms learning since the beginning of the school year.

Staff at several of the private schools said the only time they’ve gone to remote learning is when Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered remote learning back in April 2020.

But, recent news searches for Illinois schools utilizing “adaptive pause” show several across the state are going or have gone back to remote learning because of increased COVID-19 cases.

Though, just how many school districts are going remote isn’t known. While last year ISBE tracked the number of schools that were remote, hybrid or in-person with regular updates, ISBE no longer tracks that information.

“School districts are not required to report adaptive pauses to ISBE,” said a spokesperson for the agency in an email to The Center Square on Thursday. “School districts may not enter into an adaptive pause without first consulting with their local health department. If in discussions with the local health department, it is determined that an adaptive pause is needed, remote learning days must be offered for the duration of the adaptive pause.”

Tri-City, north east of Springfield, announced it is going on an “adaptive pause” until Jan. 10.

“Nurses from our office communicated with Tri-City staff, including the school nurse, about the increase in COVID-19 cases within their school,” said a statement from Sangamon County Public Health Director Gail O’Neill. “Similar to the recent spike across our community, Tri-City’s rapid increase causes us concern. Although we do not regulate schools, we support Tri-City’s decision. At this time, we are not aware of other districts in the county making similar plans.”

Tri-City parent, basketball coach and vocational coordinator Steve Dilley said the evidence the past two years shows remote learning is more dangerous to kids than COVID-19.

“The risk to our children I think is so minimal compared to what we’re doing to them academically and mentally,” Dilley said in an interview.

Dilley said he and his wife, who’s a first-grade teacher, are heartbroken they’re back to remote learning.

“I feel like remote learning is detrimental to their growth,” he said. “I don’t know what we’re going to see in 20 years, what kind of young individuals we’ll have in the next 15 to 20 years, who have had to cope with this.”

Not only is it hard on students, Dilley said it’s hard on teachers who have to quickly adapt to get kids engaged, if they even log into remote learning.

“How do you teach reading to a first grader on a screen?” Dilley said.

It’s also hard on working parents who have to find alternative child care.

Messages to the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers were not returned seeking what recommendations they have for parents and teachers in such situations.

Tri-City, north east of Springfield, is in compliance with the state’s mask mandate. While Dilley said COVID-19 is serious and people who are immunocompromised or scared should do what they think is best for themselves, he’s heartbroken seeing 3-year-olds walking down the hall with masks on.

“Our pre-k, kindergarten, first graders, they don’t know any different,” Dilley said. “They think school is: you walk in, you put a mask on, that’s what you do, and it’s heartbreaking, it makes you sick.”