Viewpoint | Who is in control of your school?

Over the last two years schools, along with everyone else, have navigated territories that have not been experienced in our lifetime. While global pandemics are not new in history the context of each has brought its own unique challenges.

Most recently, in Illinois, we have watched a battle unfold between various groups that traditionally are all working towards the same end. A great deal of that battle has centered on who is in control of schools. Last night, just before midnight, the Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District spoke to this question and concluded that the state's authority will remain restrained per a lower court decision, which was established in the Sangamon County Circuit Court case, and also indicated that the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), per their vote this week, did not extend the ability of for Illinois Department of Public Health (IDHP) to implement the emergency rule.

Ultimately this all answers the question of who is in control of schools, and the answer, in regard to these topics and many more, is that locally elected school boards have that authority. In this case, while the state has been restrained from implementing mitigation measures, locally elected school boards, in publicly held meetings, have full authority to determine the context of the conditions in their communities and make decisions that are in the best interest of the students and families that have elected and represent them.

Illinois is a local control state, which is an important characteristic in order to best meet the needs of students around a very diverse and large region. We all know that the "one size fits all" mentality does not work well and the same is true for schools. What "fits" well in Robinson, Illinois, where there is a Hershey's Chocolate Factory, which employs a great deal of people in the region, likely doesn't fit well in Vienna, Illinois, which is located in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest.

Unfortunately there seem to be constant attempts to erode the control of locally elected school boards. I believe that a great deal of these attempts at eroding local control are not ill intended. For example, when state level officials, whether in the legislature, governor's office, or other state level agencies see a perceived need and or problem they attempt to address it, which is good. However, the means by which we address those perceived needs and or problems is extremely important.

You need not look far to find examples of this beyond the one at hand. If you were to look back over the last few years of attempted, and unfortunately, many adopted state level curriculum mandates, then add up the minutes that it would take to effectively implement each of those items into the classroom, you would quickly find that students would need to go to school 24/7 in order to have time to cover them all. This is not reasonable.

We have a tendency to go for the "nuclear option" of making a new statewide rule and or law that impacts everyone, as opposed to going through a process that honors an effective and well built system. That well built system has local schools boards, local teachers, local administrators, and a plethora of other components that can solve problems and better enhance opportunities for students around that state.

While this appellate decision centers on one narrow issue it serves as an example of the need for us to continue the decision around local control of schools in our community.

Joshua W. Stafford
School Superintendent

Joshua W. Stafford is the superintendent of schools for Vienna District 13-3.


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