Channahon | Two private academies in northern Illinois and a school district in the southeastern part of the state are at the center of a growing debate over masks in Illinois schools.
In a letter sent on behalf of Families of Faith Christian Academy in Channahon, attorney Tom Devore informed the state’s Board of Education and Department of Public Health that the school is “declining to implement the health and safety protocols” released in June for Illinois schools.
Among the protocols the school will not mandate when classes begin Aug. 20: face coverings for students and staff. Families of Faith is one of three entities to challenge the school guidance—Devore is also representing Hutsonville Community Unit School District No. 1 in southeastern Illinois and Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville.
“The mask was the number-one thing for most parents we interviewed and talked to,” said Randy Blan, Families of Faith’s headmaster. Blan said the school has been assessing the COVID-19 situation since Illinois schools shut down last spring. “We realized the risk wasn’t nearly as high as they had led us to believe that it was,” he said.
“The infection rate as well as the danger to children is so miniscule that I think parents need to be the one to decide what’s best for them. It shouldn’t be something that’s dictated to them.”
Enrollment at the 15-year-old school is usually around 150, he said, but Blan expects it to be much higher, around 500, when the semester begins.
The academy is a ministry of Families of Faith church, an IBSA congregation pastored by Blan. The school meets in the church’s building in Channahon, a village southwest of Joliet.
According to statistics from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the ZIP code where the school is located has seen 59 cases of COVID-19. Its county, Will, has the fifth-highest number of cases among Illinois counties, but is well below Cook and other suburban counties.
Blan noted the difficulties of wearing a mask, particularly for young children and during cold and flu season. “It’s just not safe,” he said. “It’s not something that we believe is even reasonable for children.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker responded to the challenges from schools July 16, filing a lawsuit in Sangamon County Circuit Court, NBC Chicago reported. The suit seeks a judge’s approval of Pritzker’s order that students, teachers, and staff wear masks in the fall.
Blan contends the state doesn’t have the authority to require masks.
“We weren’t trying to be a problem for anyone,” he said. “We understand what our legal responsibilities are. We also understand what our rights are. There are no laws that support any of this. There are suggestions, there are guidelines. There aren’t laws.”
Families and Faith cares deeply for its children, families, and staff, Blan said. “We have implemented new policies this year to keep our school safe and germ-free, but we believe that our parents have the right to choose.”