Timothy Christian Schools gets state recognition back after complying with mask mandate
Illinois State Board of Education officials have reinstated Timothy Christian Schools' recognition status after initially revoking it over noncompliance with Gov. J.B. Pritzker's school mask mandate intended to reduce spread of COVID-19.
A letter from ISBE State Superintendent Carmen Ayala on Friday, which Timothy Christian administrators shared with the Daily Herald, stated that the institution "is now in compliance with the universal masking requirements" set forth in Pritzker's executive order. The order requires face masks inside schools.
"I am pleased with this anticipated outcome and appreciate the prompt response from ISBE," Superintendent Matt Davidson said in a statement. "It is going to be a great year for Timothy Christian Schools ... actually, it's going to be our best yet."
Earlier Friday, ISBE confirmed it intended to restore recognition status after Timothy Christian, which has elementary, middle and high schools at an Elmhurst campus, agreed to require masks indoors.
"Since having its recognition status removed, the school has changed its position and newly updated its health plan to require universal indoor masking," ISBE spokeswoman Jaclyn Matthews said. "We appreciate the school's cooperation to protect the health and safety of its students and staff.
"However, any future verified reports of noncompliance will result in immediate revocation of recognition status."
Loss of recognition status comes with stiff penalties such as ineligibility for IHSA sports, exclusion from a scholarship fund and the state not acknowledging graduates' diplomas.
School leaders contend Timothy Christian "never stated that it would not comply with the universal mask requirement."
In a video posted Wednesday, Davidson said, "Our goal is to stick with the Timothy Health Plan and thus remain mask optional."
Administrators intended to further explore the issue in the coming days, he said in the video. "But ultimately we'll make a conclusion on the legality of the announcement by the governor, especially as a private, faith-based religious educational institution. We believe our health plan will continue to work."
After the state's sanction, Timothy Christian issued a statement Thursday saying, "Timothy made a schoolwide commitment to its community that it would use the two weeks before school starts (Aug. 25) to look more closely at the issue of universal masking in schools, and its impact on Timothy, specifically.
"The intent prior to the first day of school was to spend the time to gain understanding of the executive order, the timing of its expiration, enforcement, and available legal options. In essence, Timothy was doing its 'due diligence' for its constituents."
ISBE officials said Pritzker's mask executive order went into effect Aug. 4 and they disagreed there was a gray area. The policy was imposed as cases of COVID-19 surge and affects all public and private schools.
The video "as well as their confirmation over the phone, and the health plan posted to (Timothy Christian's) website all clearly stated their mask-optional policy was and would remain in place," Matthews said.
"We will continue to act swiftly with both nonpublic and public schools that have confirmed they are not implementing universal indoor masking as required by the executive order," she said. "ISBE will not compromise students' health and safety."
Davidson thanked parents for their support Thursday, noting "it's been a busy 24 hours. Someday I'll have to share more about it. In the meantime, our commitment to Biblical virtues and values will remain our rudder as we navigate the upcoming school year -- a year that I've pledged to make our best ever."
Numerous suburban school districts had announced wearing masks would be optional but reversed course after Pritzker on Aug. 4 mandated masks be worn inside schools.
Without the ISBE recognition, both the high school and elementary schools also would have lost access to the Invest in Kids tax scholarship program, and middle school and elementary students would have been ineligible to participate in Illinois Elementary School Association sports, according to ISBE policy.
The Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics are recommending masks inside to keep kids safe in schools as the highly infectious delta variant of COVID-19 is surging across the U.S. while children ages 11 and younger are not yet eligible for vaccinations.