Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says he is not surprised by the recent lawsuit by parents and Attorney Thomas DeVore or the state school mask mandate.
Ptacek says he’s seen the frustration against the mask mandate mounting for weeks and believes it needs to come before the courts for a final decision: “The entire time I’ve tried to keep out my own personal opinions on the virus, because I’m supposed to represent everybody in the community. We have just been staying in our lane and that has been a theme since this began in March of 2020. I’ll step out a little bit from it, not necessarily to give my personal opinion on whether the lawsuit should succeed or not, but I will step out and say that I do understand the concerns that people have with the limitations that are being put on our students in school when our numbers are continuously dropping.”
Ptacek says he ultimately believes the lawsuit involving 145 school districts across the state will eventually be trimmed out of the litigation and entangle Governor J.B. Pritzker and the state’s agencies: “I do think that this will end up being primarily defended by state agencies, which is where it should be and that is what my letter to ISBE and the Governor’s Office and IDPH stated. I think that it’s better that [DeVore] is doing a mass lawsuit against a group of schools, which will end up minimizing each individual school’s attorney expenses and really pushing this to finding a final resolution instead of all these individual lawsuits against small districts that really have no statement throughout the rest of the state. I think many of us are just looking forward to it being answered, and I think that this process will provide that answer.”
Ptacek shares some of the frustrations that are being vented currently at the state agencies. He says the recent updated guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the State Board of Education that removes alternative diagnosis from school nurses doesn’t make any sense: “They turned around and they removed alternative diagnosis from our ability in our decision-making tree that our nurses utilize to decide whether or not they have to send somebody home or not and require they get tested. What that means is, in the past, that if we had a documented hay fever or something that could look like Covid but isn’t, the nurses were able to, given the entirety of the situation, make a determination if they feel it was a threat of it being Covid or being this alternative diagnosis. Many of our students we kept in school under alternative diagnosis. Once again, we’ve not had any spread other than the 1 known event and the one questionable since this began, so us following the alternative diagnosis model to keep kids in school was not at all placing people in jeopardy or under any threat. Now our numbers are diminished and dropping dramatically and they remove alternative diagnosis when we were using it at the height of the virus…I don’t understand the decision making on that whatsoever.”
Ptacek says he is glad that IDPH and the CDC did amend their guidelines for classifying outbreaks in schools. Ptacek says he believes that by labeling an outbreak as 2 cases was fanning the flames of making school COVID-19 situations sound worse than they actually are: “When we start labeling places as outbreaks and you start finding ways to have more kids being tested at a time when the numbers are dropping. This is where I’m somewhat stepping out of my lane, but I’m just analyzing those facts and saying something doesn’t add up. It seems like there is a goal to paint the situation in the schools worse than it actually is. That’s where, I’m not saying I agree with Mr. DeVore’s lawsuit, I can understand the frustration that people in the state are having that’s pushing that direction.”
According to statistics released during last night’s school board meeting, there are currently no staff that have an active positive case or on quarantine for being a close contact. One staff remains out due to potential long hauler symptoms from a previous positive case, according to Ptacek. There are currently 9 positive cases among students with 3 in isolation as of yesterday across the district.