Washington school students told to wear masks while chewing

Students at a Washington state school had been told they had to wear masks at all times — even while chewing their food during lunch.

The bizarre COVID-19 protocols at the Geiger Montessori School in Tacoma, just outside Seattle, said students had to wear masks in the cafeteria and could lower them “only to take a bite or drink.”

Principal Neil O’Brien spoke of the measures at a Parent Teacher Student Association meeting as recently as Sept. 14, according to the meeting’s minutes.  

“We all wear masks, even in cafeteria. Geiger practices spreading children out during meals, lowering only to take a bite or drink and then raising it again,” O’Brien said.

“Geiger is fortunate to have excellent mechanical air flow systems. Children are taught to stay 3 ft apart.”

An outraged parent, only referred to as Michael, told KTTH radio that the principal also emailed the mask guidance to parents.

After flagging his concerns, Michael said an administrator at Tacoma Public Schools falsely claimed the protocol was based on science and CDC guidance for schools.

An outraged parent said that Principal Neil O’Brien also emailed the mask guidance to parents.
Tacoma Public Schools/Facebook

A spokesperson for the school district has since walked back the policy.

“The standard originally set at Geiger was established in good faith as an interpretation of health department guidance to wear masks when ‘actively eating,’” the spokesperson told the radio station.

“In checking with the health department, that standard goes beyond their intent. We won’t discipline any students for not wearing their masks between bites.

“This is not the guidance being used at other schools.”

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School Choice Helped a Homeless Teen Grow Up To Run a Nonprofit. Now She Wants To Help Others. – Reason.com

Government-run schools fail kids.

Teachers unions and education bureaucrats say, “We need more money!”

But America already spends a fortune on public schools.

My town, New York City, spends $28,000 per student—half-a-million dollars per classroom! Think about what you could do with that money: Hire five teachers? Pay for private tutors?

Where does the $28,000 go? No one really knows. When governments run things, money vanishes into bureaucracy. NYC spends $3 million per year on “executive superintendents” and $10 million on consultants.

Some charter schools offer better educations for less. But NYC politicians limit the number of charter schools. As a result, 48,000 kids wait on waitlists.

Fortunately, some charities have stepped in to help.

My video this week features Student Sponsor Partners, or SSP, a nonprofit that helps low-income students go to Catholic schools.

Jeniffer Gutierrez, a parent in the Bronx, was ecstatic to get SSP’s acceptance letter. “I cried so hard when I received that letter because I knew it was an opportunity for my son….High schools in the Bronx are violent. There’s no discipline. There’s no education.”

Her son Tyler didn’t feel safe in public school. “One of my best friends was shot and killed right next to me,” he recalls.

Many Catholic schools, even though they spend much less per student than government-run schools, do better. SSP sent Tyler to Cardinal Hayes High School, where, says Gutierrez, teachers helped her son “excel in life.”

Tyler now attends St. John‘s University on scholarship. He and thousands of other SSP students are on a path to success.

That’s why I support SSP. I’m not Catholic, but I’ve paid Catholic school tuition for dozens of kids and personally mentored five.

That mentoring makes SSP different. SSP assigns an adult to every student. Often these relationships continue after students graduate.

Jorge Aguilar says his mentor “planted seeds in my brain that I could do big things in life.” Aguilar then became the first person in his family to go to college. Now he’s a doctor.

“SSP helped me break the chain of poverty,” he says.

Eighty-five percent of SSP kids graduate high school, twice as many as their public school peers. Most are accepted by colleges.

All this happened because decades ago, philanthropist Peter Flanigan wanted to give parents an alternative to government schools. He hoped that would help at-risk teenagers escape poverty.

He started SSP. One of the first kids he helped was Debra Vizzi.

“I had been homeless,” she tells me. “I left an abusive foster home and was sort of hopping around from shelter to shelter.”

She met Flanigan at a soup kitchen. He told her he’d pay for her to attend Cathedral High School.

“I was suspicious, especially as a kid on the street, but he was legit,” Vizzi laughs. “He paid $350 for me to go to one of the best high schools in New York City.”

Flannigan’s mentorship gave Vizzi more than a better education. “He helped me trust men, believe in people, helped me have a future. Even helped me become a mother later…something that I hadn’t had.”

Vizzi is now executive director of SSP.

“If you would have told me when I was 12 years old, I would run this organization, I would have said you were crazy.”

This year, SSP has a thousand students attending different private high schools.

Want to help? SSP seeks more people who will mentor a student and more donors who’ll help pay for it. You can get more information at sspnyc.org.

Maybe you’ll join us and help more kids escape bad government-run schools.


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Is The Current School Board Culture War Really That Different From The Past, Or Are We Just Paying More Attention?

  • Parents across the U.S. have spoken out against ideology and curricula they don’t agree with, often in viral moments caught on video criticizing school boards’ decisions on masks, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, reopening and critical race theory.
  • “When something happens where people feel like they can no longer control what’s going on in their schools, they get upset, and they start being much more active,” such as voting in school board elections and running for office, said Andy Smarick, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
  • Despite the recent uproar in school board meetings around the country the trend isn’t unusual historically, and it isn’t clear whether the issues causing a culture war in America’s schools are more salient than those of the past, multiple experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation. 

Despite the recent uproar in school board meetings around the country the trend isn’t unusual historically, and it isn’t clear whether the issues causing a culture war in America’s schools are more salient than those of the past, multiple experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation. 

In recent months, parents across the U.S. have spoken out against ideology and curricula they don’t agree with, often in viral moments caught on video criticizing school boards’ decisions on masks, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, reopening and critical race theory (CRT).

People generally feel like they are familiar with their school board system and that they can trust what it does, according to Andy Smarick, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He said it’s important to learn from the past when looking at the current uproar from parents on both sides of the political spectrum and consider what is sparking increased turnout at local school board meetings.

“When something happens where people feel like they can no longer control what’s going on in their schools, they get upset, and they start being much more active,” such as voting in school board elections and running for office, Smarick said.

One mother went viral for her rant against CRT at a Loudoun County Public Schools school board meeting, which has been the site of many viral moments featuring indignant parents. She called on the district to ban CRT, which she said was “abusive” to children because it discriminates “against one’s color” and warned the school board to “think twice before you indoctrinate such racist theories.”

CRT holds that America is fundamentally racist, yet it teaches people to view every social interaction and person in terms of race. Its adherents pursue “antiracism” through the end of merit, objective truth and the adoption of race-based policies.

At a school board meeting in June, Loudoun County garnered national attention when parents protesting CRT were arrested for trespassing after they refused to leave when the school board ended public comment because the meeting became too unruly.

At another school board meeting in the district, teacher and activist Lilit Vanetsyan told parents to speak out for their kids or risk “them rooting for socialism by the time they get to middle school.”

Smarick said the piqued interest over school issues “is not unusual historically” and that it happens “every decade or so.”

He said the same theme was prevalent with the rise of the Common Core movement, where the federal government attempted to enact a standard approach for all districts in a way that some local communities didn’t like.

Supporters of a mask mandate and anti-mask mandate speak during public comments at the Hillsborough County Schools Board meeting held at the district office on July 27, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors including students returning to school. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Launched in 2009, Common Core is a set of academic standards and learning goals for K-12 public schools that outline what knowledge and skills a student should have at the end of each grade. The standards aim to ensure success upon graduation regardless of where a student may live in the U.S.

At least 41 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards.

Critics of Common Core argued it is a “one-size fits all,” bureaucratic, top-down approach by the federal government that isn’t sufficient for all students across the U.S., according to the American Institute for Learning and Human Development. Others argued it was an infringement by the federal government on the local authority of schools, which benefitted corporate actors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who gave over $200 million dollars in support of the Common Core movement, according to Harvard Ed. Magazine and The Washington Post.

The media has picked up the interest from parents to get involved with local school boards, giving it national attention, which is reflected in news headlines, said Jonathan Butcher, education fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He said virtual learning as a result of the pandemic, which gave parents a front row seat to what kids were being taught, has been a factor in the intensified attention to curricula.

“Public schools, they are places where we should care about the intersection of culture and policy,” Butcher said. “We’re recognizing it now with critical race theory in schools, as though it’s something new.”

Butcher also compared the current climate to the Common Core movement, when parents went to local school boards to express their discontent with what their kids were being taught.

In the case of CRT, Butcher said corporate media framed at the pushback from parents as a “unique” occurrence when it really isn’t. Instead, he said parents have always cared and been interested, but since CRT is an issue dealing with race, it gets more attention that “makes for a headline.”

In the current political climate people seem to mobilize on cultural, partisan issues, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “that people are more engaged in school politics,” said Paul Hill, the founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and professor at the University of Washington Bothell. “It’s just more that people are more engaged in politics, and schools are one place they do it.”

People talk before the start of a rally against

People talk before the start of a rally against “critical race theory” (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. “Are you ready to take back our schools?” Republican activist Patti Menders shouted at a rally opposing anti-racism teaching that critics like her say trains white children to see themselves as “oppressors.” “Yes!”, answered in unison the hundreds of demonstrators gathered this weekend near Washington to fight against “critical race theory,” the latest battleground of America’s ongoing culture wars. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

The current debates happening in school boards across the country might be the exception if the issues are “salient enough,” according to Vladimir Kogan, Ohio State University political science professor. But he argues this is likely “the latest iteration … of a broader trend we’ve seen in the last couple of decades, which is growing nationalization of local elections.”

Past debates in education also include abstinence-only sex education, the 2006 controversy over evolution and intelligent design, and prayer in schools, which the Supreme Court ruled against in 1962, arguing it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

When high profile, national figures weigh in on school issues it leads to polarization among the electorate, Kogan said. It happened 10 years ago when President Barack Obama came out in support of Common Core and “suddenly everybody cared about it. Republicans were against it, Democrats were for it,” he said.

The same thing is playing out now as a result of former President Donald Trump’s strong stance on school issues during the pandemic, which had the effect of polarizing people along party lines, Kogan added.

“President Trump was very vocal about masks, very vocal about school reopening, very vocal about critical race theory, so that had I think this downstream effect,” Kogan said. The phenomena is a facet of American politics in recent decades, where there is a “follow the leader, partisan cheerleading” type of notion, he said. (RELATED: OPINION: Study Finds Declining Student Achievement, Increased Harm To School Choice Since Common Core)

In the past, school boards typically haven’t debated issues with national relevance. But that has changed with the debate surrounding CRT and COVID-19 related protocols in schools, said Jonathan Collins, assistant professor of education and political science at Brown University

“All of these kinds of public health, COVID related educational policy issues are becoming sort of national mainstream and that relevance, that salience is creating a particularly high attentive level to what’s happening with school boards and school districts,” Collins said.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

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‘Hypocrisy!’: Fla. school board member who pushed for student mask mandate gets called out for not wearing mask at ritzy indoor gala

A Palm Beach County school board member who’s pushed for making students wear masks in schools — despite Gov. Ron DeSantis allowing parents to opt out of such mandates — is getting blasted as a hypocrite for being seen without a mask at a ritzy weekend event.

What are the details?

School board member Alexandria Ayala was seen without a mask in photographs taken at the county’s Business Development Board gala held Saturday at The Breakers — a luxury resort in Palm Beach, WPEC-TV reported.

The photos were
posted on the Facebook page of County Commissioner Robert Weinroth. In the below set of photos, Ayala is wearing the blue dress in the bottom left image:

In fact, Weinroth
tagged Ayala in three photos in his post — and she’s without a mask in all of them.

On Tuesday, Ayala did not immediately respond to TheBlaze’s request for comment on the issue.

Here she is advocating for masks in schools:

Palm Beach County School Board Member Alexandria Ayala speaks about mask mandate


Some parents are not happy

“Children are forced to wear masks to go into public libraries. We are forced to wear them in a government building to attend meetings. And I feel it is hypocritical to mandate mask-wearing at certain times, but not follow their own guidelines,” parent Josie Macahovec told WPEC.

Parent Ashley Labbad added to the station that she wants board members “to realize what they are pushing at these school board meetings needs to stop.”

Others had the following to say in comments on Weinroth’s post:

  • “I’m ready to go full blown Karen on her ass! Such hypocrisy!” one commenter wrote. “Meanwhile my kid is sitting in one of these schools wearing an itchy ill fitting mask!”
  • “And OUR KIDS ARE FORCED TO WEAR MASKS IN SCHOOL!! NO NO NO! This is a disgrace,” another commenter declared. “Hypocritical and an abomination!!!!”
  • “No mask for her, but she’ll muzzle your kids,” another commenter observed.
  • “Why doesn’t Alexandria Ayala have a mask on if she voted to force kids to wear masks in school?” another commenter wondered. “Wouldn’t you want to live by the policies you place on others to show the strength of your conviction?”

WPEC noted that there is no county mask mandate prohibiting going without a mask to an event like Saturday’s gala if the venue doesn’t require it — but that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says even vaccinated people should wear masks in public settings.

What’s the background?

Despite a Florida Department of Education emergency rule stating that schools must allow parents to opt students out of using face masks — which conforms to an executive order issued by DeSantis — the Palm Beach County School Board defied the rulings earlier this summer and instituted a mask mandate anyway, with no ability to opt out.

A legal battle ensued, and last week the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights said it was launching a probe into the requirement in Florida that schools must let parents opt out their children in regard to wearing face masks.

Ayala was one of three school board members from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties who considered filing a lawsuit to defend their mask mandates, WPLG-TV reported.

“We will not be deterred by the governor’s continual threats,” Ayala said, according to the station.

However, a group of Palm Beach County parents said they’re suing the school district’s student over its mask mandate, the Palm Beach Post reported.

‘It is a privilege to address your public officials’

Palm Beach County School board meetings have gotten pretty heated over the issue. Here’s a clip showing Ayala scolding attendees, telling them that “it is a privilege to address your public officials and to be in this chamber.” Board chairman Frank Barbieri Jr., also talked tough:

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15-Year-Old Boy Charged in Shooting of Two Fellow High School Students

A 15-year-old Virginia boy has been charged in a shooting that wounded two fellow students at their high school, police announced Tuesday.

Newport News police said in a news release that the teen was charged with two counts of aggravated malicious wounding, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and other weapons-related offenses.

The teen was charged Monday as a juvenile, police spokeswoman Kelly King said by email.

Students at Heritage High School were in their second full week of the school year on Monday when the shots rang out before noon, sending students and staff seeking places to hide.

A 17-year-old boy was shot in the side of his face and a 17-year-old girl was shot in the leg, Chief Steve Drew said at a news conference.


Reporters Furious After Screaming White House Staffers Block Them from Asking Biden a Single Question

Both students were taken to the hospital and neither injury was thought to be life-threatening, he said.

The suspect fled the scene, police said.

In a Facebook Live chat with the community on Tuesday, Drew called the shooting an isolated act.

Based on interviews, he said, police believe the suspect did not go to school to harm multiple people, but he had an issue with two individuals.

The firearm was found at the shooting scene, he added.

Video from the scene showed tactical units arriving at the school, frantic parents on sidewalks talking on cellphones as crime scene tape stretched across parts of the school parking lot.

Police responded to the school and searched the building, clearing it room by room, Drew said.

They conducted an extensive search of the area after receiving identifying information about the suspect and tips from the community and school personnel, police said.

About three hours after the shooting, a family member took the teen to juvenile services, and he was then taken to Newport News police headquarters for an interview, police said in a news release Tuesday.


White College Professor Tells Students She Will ‘Confront the Innate Racism’ Within Herself

Drew said two others were taken to the hospital after the shooting: one whose arm was injured as people ran from the school and another because of asthma.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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School District Pulls Book That Included Sodomy Scene. Furious Mom Hits School Board

RichLegg/iStock/Getty Images Plus

No sooner did the public-school board in Hudson, Ohio, pull a textbook that the mayor said promoted kiddie porn, than a school board in Austin, Texas, pulled one for about the same reason.

In the latest case, the book contained at least one scene involving anal sodomy. That didn’t much please an angry mom who read a passage to the Lake Travis School Board on September 15.

Shortly thereafter, the school board pulled the book from two middle-school libraries. The board is reviewing Out of Darkness, is about a love affair between a black boy and a Mexican girl, and uses a school explosion in 1937 in New London as historical background.

“Material of a Pornogrpahic Nature”

Board members undoubtedly received a shock when Kara Bell marched up the podium during time allowed for public comment and read an unsavory passage.

“Take her out back, we boys figured, then hands on the t***ies,” Bell read verbatim. “Put it in her coin box, put it in her cornhole, grab a hold of that braid, rub that Calico.”

Cornhole is a popular bean-bag game, but Bell told the board she had to Google the sexual meaning of the term. She wasn’t happy, of course, when she learned it’s slang for the anus.

“I’ve never had anal sex, I don’t want to have anal sex,” Bell fumed. “I don’t want my kids having anal sex. I want you to start focusing on education and not public health.”

Bell lost a race for the school board in May.

KXAN, the NBC affiliate in Austin, reported that someone phoned the board to say a pornographic book was in a middle school library, after which the school removed it from two schools.

A spokesman told the station that a district has “significant discretion to determine the content of its school libraries,” but must “exercise its discretion in a manner consistent with the First Amendment.”

Although the schools can’t “remove materials from a library for the purpose of denying students access to ideas with which the district disagrees,” they can purge materials that are “pervasively vulgar or based solely upon the educational suitability of the books in question.”

The district is reviewing the book, the affiliate reported. That must leave parents wondering whether books should be reviewed before they are chosen for the schools.

That aside, the pitch from Amazon is this:

Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

That’s pretty bland, considering what’s inside the covers.

The station found the usual leftist to explain why kids should read about anal sex.

“I think to pretend books that deal explicitly with sex or sexual assault are in some way a threat to young people are doing them a disservice,” Jonathan Friedman of Pen America told the station.

Friedman, who wears two earrings, is the group’s free-speech expert: 

This is about having access for young people to a wide variety of literature that people from different backgrounds are reflected in.

You have a small contingent in many cases of parents who decide that they disagree, and that they must know better than those who are in the classroom.

Sex List

A lot of parents “know better than those who are in the classroom,” as the school board in Hudson, Ohio, found last week. 

Such was the material in a writing-class text titled 642 Things to Write About that Mayor Craig Shubert told the members to quit or be arrested for peddling child porn.

The book contained assignments such as writing a “a sex scene you wouldn’t show your mom,” and describing “a time when you wanted to orgasm but couldn’t.”

One parent, also a cop, said teachers should be monitored like those in his profession who must wear body cameras. Cameras, he said, should be installed in classrooms so parents can monitor what teachers are imparting to kids.

The board didn’t quit, but it did remove the book. Members admitted they didn’t know the schools were using it and that the review process for the book had failed.

H/T: Breitbart

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Public school staffer on leave after wearing blackface to work reportedly to protest vaccine mandate

A public school district staffer wore blackface to work last week and soon was removed and placed on administrative leave, Newberg (Oregon) Public Schools said in a statement.

What are the details?

While the district did not go into detail about Friday’s incident, KOIN-TV — via media partner the Newberg Graphic — said the culprit is a Mabel Rush Elementary School special education assistant who dressed as Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks and used iodine as a face darkener to protest a statewide vaccine mandate.

The station said the disclosure came from a fellow Mabel Rush staffer who requested anonymity. While KOIN named the staffer who wore blackface, TheBlaze will not do so until the district does.

Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown mandated that all K-12 employees in the state must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.

What did parents have to say?

“It’s just one thing after another, and as a parent you question sending your kid to school after awhile — at least I do,” Shannon Benito, whose daughters attend Mabel Rush Elementary, told KGW-TV.

Tai Harden-Moore told the station she feels as though some connected to the district “really want us to go back to that Jim Crow era, back to the Civil Rights era.” She added to KGW that her son, who is black, “was called the N-word in 7th grade” and that “the school did very little about it. Their approach was to protect the student who did it.”

Harden-Moore told the station that her son left Newberg High School and moved to a Portland school.

‘Slave trade’ incident

The blackface incident comes on the heels of another racially charged incident just last week when parents of some Newberg High School students learned they were taking part in or being targeted by a social media group chat called “Slave Trade,” which joked about how much participants would pay for their black classmates in a slave auction, KGW reported.

Image source: YouTube screenshot

Tami Erion, the high school’s principal, told the station in an email that photos of students were used, as well as with racist and homophobic slurs.

And the Newberg School Board for months has been trying to ban teachers from hanging Black Lives Matter and Pride flags in their classrooms, KGW reported, adding that the board recently broadened the ban to include all “controversial political symbols” in schools.

Newberg elementary school staffer placed on leave after showing up to work in blackface


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HS football team leads community in post-game prayer after school board tells coaches and teachers they no longer can: ‘Satan’s power was defeated tonight’

After a school board in Tennessee told coaches and teachers they could no longer lead students in prayer, a high school football team stepped up in a big way to support religious freedom — and people from across the country are taking notice.

What happened?

Putnam County Schools administrators informed faculty and staff last week that moving forward they would be prohibited from leading students in prayer, WZTV-TV reported.

“The case law not allowing prayer or proselytizing is clear. Courts have consistently ruled that prayer and proselytizing can not be sponsored by schools or school personnel,” administrators said in the memo following a complaint issued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The anti-religious freedom group had moaned that several instances of “prayer and proselytizing” had occurred at events at Cookeville and Upperman high schools, making reference to the regular occurrence of prayer following high school football games.

In a statement to the local news outlet, administrators added: As a district, we absolutely understand the importance of prayer in the lives of our students, faculty, and staff members. We support the right of students to participate in and lead spontaneous prayers. That right is and will continue to be protected.”

But, the board added, “We also understand that faculty and staff members can not lead or participate in the spontaneous student-led prayers.”

What was the response?

The new anti-prayer rule sparked immediate outrage in the community and prompted parents to organize a show of support following Upperman’s game against Stone Memorial on Friday night.

“We do realize this is a public school, but it has always been optional for players to pray, and has been a voluntary event. Players that still want to pray will have to do it on their own,” one parent, Dustin Whitefield, wrote to WZTV.

“After the game, players and cheerleaders that choose to will be on the field praying on their own. A group of parents will be going out on the field to support them,” he said. “We will join hands and encircle them from a distance as a sign of protection and solidarity in choosing to continue to pray. This is a parent-led event! We are encouraging anyone that would like to show their support to please join us.”

The demonstration went according to plan. After Friday’s game, scores of parents and fans gathered on the field and surrounded a large group of players from both teams. According to WZTV, the courageous players stepped up to lead the parents and fans in corporate prayer.

Anything else?

News of the demonstration quickly circulated after photos of the event were posted and spread on social media. Several responded with support and admiration.

“Satan’s power was defeated tonight,” one Putnam County Schools alum and fan wrote on Facebook.

“As the threat of a legal action to forbid prayer after the game was overwhelmed by player lead prayer supported by parents and fans in solidarity on Overall Field. God bless the Baxter and Stone players for their faith and courage,” he added.

Many others chimed in with well wishes and support, saying, “Amen,” “Praise God,” and “Hallelujah!”

Coaches, teachers can’t lead students in prayer


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School districts prepare for potential vaccine mandate for younger students

With a COVID-19 vaccine for young children expected to become available in the coming months, some school officials are turning their attention to possible state or federal vaccine mandates for students.

Pfizer announced it planned to apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between five and 11 years old in early October. The FDA has said children in clinical trials testing vaccines should be monitored for at least two months for side effects, suggesting that the agency is considering a quicker path to authorize the shot for emergency use than full approval.

Educators and school personnel in Illinois from kindergarten through college are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. This is in addition to the statewide mask mandate announced by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in August.

Teachers’ unions have voiced support of the vaccine and mask rules, but some schools have failed to enforce them and have been punished by the state with nonrecognition.

College students are required by the state to be vaccinated or submit to weekly tests, although many colleges and universities implemented the policy before the governor’s mandate. Once a vaccine is available for younger students, will the next move by Pritzker be a vaccine mandate for school-aged children?

Genevra Walters, treasurer of the Large Unit District Association and superintendent of Kankakee schools, said her district hasn’t addressed the possibility yet, but is in favor of a vaccine mandate.

“We haven’t talked, but based on our numbers of positive cases and quarantined students, I would love for that to be an option,” Walters said.

Barry Reilly, superintendent of schools in Bloomington, says his district also has not addressed the possibility yet.

“Obviously a vaccination all the way down to a preschool level will be another big benefit, but right now we are focused on trying to get a Test to Stay program started here in District 87,” he said.

The Test to Stay program allows a student who was in contact with a positive case to avoid a quarantine as long as they are asymptomatic. The student is then tested on days 1, 3, 5, and 7.

Reilly said if a vaccine mandate is put in place, his district will conduct vaccination clinics as it did for students 12 and older. As for if younger kids should get vaccinated when the vaccine becomes available, Reilly said that is not his call.

“While I certainly encourage parents to work with their family doctors and consider getting the vaccine because I think that benefits everyone, those decisions I’ll certainly will leave up to the parents and the medical professionals,” Reilly said.

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With vaccine mandate looming, hundreds of school districts tapping into COVID testing program

With Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for educators in effect Sunday, it’s expected COVID-19 testing will increase and some are calling for additional oversight of the testing program and the money spent on it.

Pritzker’s vaccine mandate for health care workers, college students and educators from Pre-K through college, says those that can’t or won’t take the vaccine must submit to weekly testing. For K-12 schools, a $235 million program provides the U of I’s SHIELD tests at no cost to the district.

“In the five-week period since Aug. 15, SHIELD Illinois has conducted approximately 133,000 tests for public K-12 schools and 24,000 tests for non-public K-12 schools in Illinois,” said SHIELD Illinois marketing and communications lead Ben Taylor.

The tests cost $35 each. Up to $10 of that could go to a third-party contractor that collects and delivers the test from the school to a lab. The fees are invoiced by SHIELD Illinois to the Illinois Department of Public health based on the test count at no cost to the school.

IDPH said 449 school districts have signed up with SHIELD and 94 are currently using the program. Around a hundred other districts are expected to launch in the next two weeks.

“The remaining schools are going through the onboarding process and we are working with SHIELD to get them online as quickly as possible,” IDPH spokesperson Melaney Arnold said.

“Last April, before the end of the school year, the state began encouraging schools to sign up for SHIELD testing,” Arnold said. “Unfortunately, many schools have waited until now to sign up – approximately 38% signed up after Aug. 24, 2021.”

Calling the testing program a “disaster,” state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, was critical of its rollout, especially with the governor’s vaccine mandate for educators looming.

“And they just wait until it’s past the point of no return to start figuring out the logistics,” Rose said. “You can’t scale up four- or five-hundred school districts in two weeks. It’s impossible.”

A spokesperson for SHIELD Illinois said they’re ready for the increased demand.

“With 114 more public school districts and 45 more non-public schools scheduled to launch testing in the next two weeks, and an additional 84 public and 23 non-public in the three weeks after that (through Oct. 29), we anticipate and are prepared for a continued increase in testing volumes,” Taylor said.

Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski said taxpayers are still footing the bill and oversight is needed.

“You’ve got to wonder, is anybody enriching themselves, is there any corruption, is there fraud?” Dabrowski said. “I’m hopeful this government can figure it out, but I’m skeptical.”

Rose, who’s on the Legislative Audit Commission, wasn’t sure how oversight would happen.

“I mean, yeah, there’s going to be oversight, but oversight of what?” Rose said. “The goofballs that failed to anticipate what was easily anticipatable?”

To date, SHIELD Illinois says it has performed more than 826,000 total tests across all organizations, with hundreds of agreements with public and non-public schools.

“As a non-profit unit of the University of Illinois System, SHIELD Illinois operates on a cost-recovery basis, only in pursuit of our mandate as a land-grant institution to use our resources and capabilities for the public good,” Taylor said. “As part of this mission, we continue to look for ways to further reduce the per-test cost to the state and extend even more testing to our fellow citizens.”

A U of I-related company called SHIELD T3 contracts with out-of-state organizations to provide the SHIELD testing services.

In response to questions about how many tests have been performed, a spokesperson said the company “is focused on distributing the innovative saliva-based test outside of Illinois,” and “has run approximately 1.3 million tests to date.”

“We do not release revenue numbers,” said SHIELD T3 spokesperson Melissa Harris.

There are different taxpayer-funded testing programs used by private schools throughout the state, and other programs in the city of Chicago and Cook County.

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