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2 Illinois schools ‘unrecognized’ by state for defying mask mandate

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Two DuPage County private schools are among the latest to join a surging number of public and private schools in Illinois being slapped with sanctions this week for refusing to comply with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school mask mandate.

Bethany Lutheran School in Naperville and Lutheran School of St. Luke in Itasca on Thursday were listed as “nonrecognized” for noncompliance with the mask mandate, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

The state board listed a total of 36 public school districts and seven private schools as being sanctioned for noncompliance with the governor’s mask mandate — a jump of more than 30% from the day before.

At least one Illinois public school district and several private schools on the list have advised ISBE they intend to comply with the mandate, including Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst, whose status was restored to “recognized” last week.

In an Aug. 18 letter to Bethany Lutheran School Principal Erin Dunwell, ISBE Superintendent Carmen Ayala said officials had verified the Naperville private school was not complying with the mask mandate, resulting in ISBE “removing your school’s status as a recognized nonpublic school, effective immediately.”

As a result, the school will be ineligible to participate in Illinois High School Association and Illinois Elementary School Association sanctioned sports and unable to participate in the Invest in Kids Act tax scholarship program, she wrote.

Officials at Bethany Lutheran and Lutheran School of St. Luke, both of which enroll children in prekindergarten through eighth grade, were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said when officials receive an unverified complaint about a district or nonpublic school, they first reach out to the superintendent or school leader directly and ask them to either confirm or correct the information within 24 hours.

The new census data shows the U.S. is more diverse and multiracial than ever. However, the data collection done in 2020 has been the most challenging of any census year  counting the population in the middle of a pandemic and in the middle of an embattled political year in the U.S. The data shows multiracial growth and a shrinking White population for the first time in the nation's history. Dr. Maria Ilcheva at Florida International University said, "We see that level that indicates the direction in which the country is going."According to the 2020 U.S. Census data, people of color represented 43 percent of the total U.S. population. That's up from 34 percent in 2010. The White, non-Hispanic population decreased by 8.6 percent.The Hispanic-Latino population the largest minority in the country grew to more than 62 million people in 2020, which is a growth of 23 percent.  Still, there's reason to believe that some in these communities went undercounted. "The numbers are not reported in their totality," said Nora Sandigo, founder of the Nora Sandigo Children Foundation."They are as accurate as they can be considering the circumstances," Ilcheva said.Ilcheva says that although the data collection in 2020 was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and a chaotic election year, the census did a good job on collecting data. "Over a third of the households had to be counted throughout other ways," Ilcheva said. "Through census enumerators, through door to door canvassers, in the middle of a pandemic that was a hard challenge to meet."Sandigo said, "They are not really accurate, because the community we are underreported, especially the immigrant community."She has been fighting for the rights of the undocumented community in the country for over 30 years. She says most undocumented families did not fill out their census forms. Dania Palma, who lives in Miami, didn't fill hers out. The Honduran native says she was afraid to because she doesn't have a green card she was scared. Ilcheva ran a model for Newsy. She found that if the growth in the Hispanic community remains like the last decade, we can expect it will be the majority of the U.S. population by the mid 2090's. "Hispanics are also multiracial," Ilcheva said. "They may be White, they may be Black, they may be a mix of races." For South Florida for example, it's not just about the Cuban community anymore.Ilcheva said, "We also have growing Venezuelan, Honduran, Ecuadorian, other Latin communities like Brazilians."In fact, Ilcheva said Brazilians are an example of communities that were less likely to fill out their census forms because of language barriers. One Brazilian who is living in Las Vegas, Dandara Oliveira, said she did not fill hers out either. She said she didn't have information about it, she had spent little time in the U.S. and she didn't know English yet.The new U.S. Census numbers will also play a role in the redistricting process. But according to Ilcheva, the Hispanic community increase won't make a huge difference on future elections.  "Even though they are the largest minority block, I still think they don't have the voting power that the Black African community has," she said.Based on the 2020 numbers, Texas will gain two seats while states like Florida, Montana and North Carolina will gain one seat each.  California, Illinois, Michigan and New York will lose one seat each.  According to the 2020 census, in Florida nine percent of the population identified themselves as multiracial. That's a 55 percent increase over 2010. 

While public school districts placed on probation are required to submit a corrective plan to the regional superintendent of schools and Ayala within 60 days, private schools do not receive a similar probationary period before their recognition is revoked because of a different recognition process under the law for private and public schools, Matthews said.

In her letter to Bethany Lutheran on Wednesday, Ayala said state officials “do not take this action lightly.”

“The purpose of the universal indoor masking requirement is to ensure that all students can safely attend school in-person this fall,” Ayala wrote. “We know that consistent and correct mask use is the simplest, most effective way to keep students safely in school, where they can learn and grow to their fullest potential. And masks work best when everyone wears one.”

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