Beecher City, Cowden Herrick remain on probation; Dieterich discusses legal action over mandates

·3 min read

Sep. 14—Beecher City Unit 20 and Cowden-Herrick Unit 3A are among just four public schools in the state that remain on probation for not following the mask mandate.

Members of the Beecher City School Board took no action during their meeting Monday to mandate masks for students, faculty or staff — leaving the district on probation with the Illinois State Board of Education. During a special meeting on Sept. 1, the board agreed to hire Silver Lake Group law firm to represent the district on legal issues related to the mask mandate. The board made no mention to the public of any future legal proceedings.

The Cowden-Herrick School Board modified its back-to-school plan on Thursday, according to Superintendent Seth Schuler.

"We made some minor changes but not to the masking policy," Schuler said. "Masks are still recommended. There is no change in our status. We are still on probation."

He said the amendment to the back-to-school plan last week changed how COVID-related absences are counted toward final exam exemptions.

In addition to Beecher City Unit 20 in Effingham County, which had an enrollment of 325 during the 2020 school year, and Cowden-Herrick Unit 3A in Shelby County, which had 326 students, the other districts on probation are Hutsonville Unit 1 in Crawford County, with 306 students; and Nauvoo-Colusa Unit 325 in Hancock County, with 242 students.

Nine non-public schools are designated as non-recognized in the latest ISBE report: Vandalia Christian Academy in Fayette County, enrollment 60; St. Bethany Lutheran School in DuPage County, enrollment 218; St. John's Lutheran Parochial School in Coles County, enrollment 285; St. James Lutheran in Adams County, enrollment 134; Parkview Christian Academy in Kendall County, enrollment 322; Christian Liberty Academy in Cook County, enrollment 432; Kankakee Trinity Academy in Kankakee County, enrollment 302; Visionway Christian School in Christian County, enrollment 218; and Valeo Academy in Cook County, enrollment 104.

Meanwhile, the Dieterich Unit 30 School Board on Monday voted unanimously to allow Superintendent Cary Jackson to pursue any legal options he deems necessary. No decision was made at the meeting to formally pursue legal action or hire an attorney to challenge the mandate.

However, Jackson said he was considering joining forces with a group of 46 school districts, led by Mt. Zion, to support a "friendly" lawsuit, in which a parent sues a school district currently under ISBE sanctions in order to test the legal boundaries of the state's mandates.

"This case is taking a different approach than what I've seen so far," Jackson said. "Their approach is to sue a school district currently under sanctions from ISBE to find out if the governor actually has the power to do what he's doing. They want a court to answer it."

Many of the districts involved with the potential suit are no longer on probation, including Dieterich, which was placed in good standing with ISBE on Sept. 1. For the suit to work, it would have to come from a parent in one of the districts that remain in probation.

Dieterich board members said they were still researching potential options and keeping all of their pathways open to challenge the state's mask mandates, put in place in August at the outset of the delta variant's rise in Illinois.

"Just because we're following the mandate now doesn't mean that we're not exploring other options of what we can do," said Anita Bierman, a member of the Unit 30 board. "Let's keep our kids playing sports, let's keep (ourselves) accredited so our kids can graduate. This isn't a short-term legal battle, this is a years-long battle, so what do we do in the meantime?"

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting