Top Education Stories You Don’t Want to Miss: August 14 – 20, 2021

Illinois masking debate takes center stage at state board meeting as parents and school leaders push back

By Samantha Smylie for Chalkbeat

“One Illinois superintendent told the state board of education that she had to request police presence in her district because the debate over masking in schools has grown so heated. A parent said mask mandates made the state feel like “Nazi Germany.” A mother of seven said she decided to homeschool rather than have her children wear masks to school. Dozens of other speakers, testifying at the state board’s first in-person meeting after a one-month break, urged the board to reconsider the mask mandate it issued earlier this month and return reopening public health guidance to local school boards. The speakers, who included parents and superintendents, echoed the debate roiling school board meetings around the country, as districts wrestle with issuing whether to pass mask mandates amid a new spike in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant. States and school districts, meanwhile, have issued a patchwork of mask guidance. Colorado has left masking up to school districts, but Gov. Jared Polis and public health leaders are urging school districts to adopt masking requirements. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order on Monday allowing parents of students to opt out of school mask policies. In Michigan, the state has not required masking but recommends that schools require universal masking.”

CPS will require COVID-19 vaccination for teachers, other employees

By Tracy Swartz for The Chicago Tribune

“The mandate covers all Chicago Board of Education workers, which includes school-based teachers and staff, central office, regular vendors and network employees. The announcement comes just over two weeks before CPS is set to welcome students back for full-time, in-person learning starting Aug. 30. “Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “This new policy enhances the district’s comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person. Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19.” Staff members will need to submit proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15 unless they have an approved religious or medical exemption. Employees who have not previously reported to the district that they are fully vaccinated must be tested at least once a week until Oct. 15 or until proof of vaccination is submitted. Testing will continue throughout the school year for staff with a documented exemption. A representative for the Chicago Teachers Union did not have an immediate comment on the new policy.”

41 Illinois school districts now under probation for violating state mask mandate

By Samantha Smylie for Chalkbeat

“Dozens of Illinois districts have been placed under probation for refusing to comply with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s universal mask mandate for preschool through high school. Forty-one of the state’s 852 districts are on probation for not enforcing the order, which requires all school employees and students to wear face coverings indoors, according to Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews. Two private schools and three public school districts have reversed their decision and will now follow the mandate issued by Pritzker in early August. The action comes amid a growing debate over mask mandates as states and school districts grapple with a COVID-19 surge and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that students and school staff wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.”

With school less than two weeks away, Chicago has not picked a district leader

By Mila Koumpilova for Chalkbeat

“When Chicago Public Schools launched its search for a new CEO, city officials set an ambitious goal of naming a top district leader by the end of July — ideally someone who could take over before the new school year. That didn’t happen. With less than two weeks before school starts, interim CEO José Torres remains in charge. Mayor Lori Lightfoot also pledged a process with an unprecedented level of transparency. Yet it has been more than six weeks since any public update on the search, despite a promise of biweekly reports. Chicago parents, educators and leaders are intensely focused on the pressing task of safely reopening schools for mandatory, full-time in-person learning, as district and teachers union officials remain caught up in yet another round of contentious school reopening negotiations. This might be a fraught moment to announce a new school chiefs pick. In a statement, Cesar Rodriguez, a press secretary in mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office, said the city is focused on getting the high-stakes search right.”

Illinois Schools Can No Longer Ban Cornrows, Locs And Braids — Thanks To A West Side Mom Who Fought Hair Discrimination

By Pascal Sabino for Block Club Chicago

“It started when Jett Hawkins’ West Side school ordered him to take out his braids. His mother fought back to defend traditionally Black hairstyles. Five months later, the state has outlawed hair discrimination, protecting the freedom of Illinois students to wear braids, locs and similar looks in school. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Jett Hawkins’ Law on Friday. It goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022. The law will call on the Illinois State Board of Education to complete a review of school handbooks and policies to ensure they don’t single out and ban Black hairstyles like cornrows, locs and braids. Schools that don’t comply will face funding cuts and may lose their recognition with ISBE. The law also directs the state board to produce educational resources for schools about hair discrimination, and the histories behind protective hairstyles Black people often use.”

1 in 7 CPS Students Experiences Homelessness, Study Finds

By Marissa Nelson for WTTW

“Taishi Neuman experienced homelessness when she was a sophomore in high school. She had a two-year-old daughter and wasn’t able to afford a babysitter, so she couldn’t always make it to class. “I couldn’t attend high school on the regular,” Neuman said. “I would go as much as I could, but once I got to my junior year I had to quit and I didn’t know back then that they had liaison and they had things that CPS can give me to help me to finish my education.” Today, Neuman is a parent of three Chicago Public Schools students. She’s also a founding member of the eduction committee at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which helps advise CPS on how it can support homeless students. According to a recent study by the University of Chicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab, one in seven CPS students experiences homelessness during their time at the district. Black students were disproportionately represented, with 26% experiencing homelessness during their tenure, compared to 4% of Hispanic students and 2% of white students, the study found.”