Dear Bunker Hill CUSD #8 Families –
Let me first begin by saying how excited we are to welcome students back into our buildings full-time this week beginning on Wednesday, August 11! What is normally an enjoyable time of year seems to be clouded in a layer of division and outrage. I would be remiss to ignore these sentiments, or to begin the year without acknowledging the feelings of our families in what should be a time of joy and unity.
Next, let me reassure all district stakeholders that throughout the summer months leading up to August, Bunker Hill CUSD #8 Board and Administration welcomed the “local control” afforded to us by IDPH and ISBE. We had consulted with the community in a Thought Exchange with nearly 200 participants and over 6,000 interactions resulting in a clear message that families wanted students back in school full time and for full days. (To see the results of the community input click here: https://5il.co/wqo9 Your voice was powerful and we appreciate you taking the time to provide input. More importantly, we heard you loud and clear.
We have learned a lot over the past year. For example, as a district we had approximately 875 student quarantines issued by the local health department. As a frame of reference, we have slightly less than 600 students total enrolled in our district. Of those 875 quarantines, only 6 later tested positive for the coronavirus. What does that tell us? That our district did an outstanding job keeping all kids safe! We have proven that we can safely offer in-person instruction while also ensuring all within our community are kept safe.
Since that time, the Governor has issued an Executive Order mandating masks be worn by all students, staff and visitors in PK-12 buildings (private and public) across the state, regardless of vaccination status. So what would happen if Bunker Hill CUSD #8 would defy that order? In short, we were advised: Don’t do it. If the district were to defy, we would risk losing the following:
- Accreditation status for our schools
- Loss of state and federal funding
- Tort immunity (which protects board members and administrators from being personally charged in litigation)
- My own professional superintendent licensure
So where does that leave us as a district since we begin school this week? We assume the Executive Order is temporary, and will be working hard to implement multiple mitigation layers (such as widespread and non-invasive testing) so that when this decision reverts back to local control, as long as the spread in our community isn’t at high levels, we have other measures in place allowing us to safely and confidently revert to a “masks optional” plan.
We also cannot be immune to the political appearance of this topic. With Republican states banning mask mandates and Democratic states issuing mask mandates, it certainly appears to be a partisan issue. This has put your local school boards and administrators in the middle of political arguments, not only here but across the nation. This is unfortunate, because our board members are non-partisan and only want what everyone expressed on the Thought Exchange: kids back in school full-time.
So let me close by first: thanking everyone in this community for your continued understanding, support, patience and grace during these last 3 years dealing with the coronavirus. Secondly, I would like to address the two major desires I’ve heard from the most over the past week:
- If you were supportive of universal masking, please do not take this latest development and view your stance as “right” and as a “win”
- If you were opposed to universal masking, please do not take this latest development and view your stance as “wrong” and as a “loss”
At the end of the day, what matters is, as the expression goes, not who was right, but doing what is right. And that is to open our doors for students to again experience full-time, 5 days/week, 100% in-person learning! As long as we remember that, we will make it through anything together.
Yours with gratitude,