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Even Reluctant School Districts Likely To Comply With Mask Mandate

Mark Jontry
Ryan Denham
Regional school superintendent Mark Jontry thinks as school gets under way, education leaders of districts with boards that disagree with the statewide mask mandate will comply.

Some school districts in central Illinois may have school boards that don't agree with Gov. JB Pritzker's mask mandate for students Pre-K through 12. But the regional superintendent for McLean, Logan, Dewitt, and Livingston counties said this week any superintendent that feels squeezed can lean on the State Board of Education for backup.

Mark Jontry said ultimately enforcement falls on the state board. Jontry oversees 47 area schools and districts.

"The state board can choose to revoke recognition status for our school districts. And if they do that, the districts risk losing some significant portion of their general state aid," said Jontry.

Jontry said the state board has used that tool against a couple districts that did not comply with federal disability laws.

"For all of our districts, it's a significant amount of money, but it's a lot more money for some," said Jontry, adding liability insurance concerns should convince even reluctant school boards to enforce the mask mandate.

Jontry thinks school districts that had masks for all of last year will do better at establishing mask culture at the start of the school year because of that experience. He said food delivery at breakfast and lunch will be the toughest time of the day for distancing and mask policy.

Many expect federal approval of the coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-12 to come in a month or two. That could raise the prospect of requiring the vaccine for kids to attend school just as for other childhood vaccines.

"That will ultimately be left to the General Assembly. I think they are probably going to be strongly encouraging it. It would not surprise me if that vaccine is added to the list of required vaccinations that already exist for school-aged children down the road," said Jontry.

If that happens he anticipates the politics of the vaccine would make it tougher to get it implemented.

"Probably, because I think you will have more and more individuals who will rely on religious exemptions or get personal physicians to provide exemptions for this particular vaccine," said Jontry.

Unit 5 Superintendent Kristen Weikle said she feels it is unlikely that would happen this school year, noting the board has never added a required vaccine to the list midyear.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.