Like many other Christian school superintendents around the country, Matt Davidson, who heads Timothy Christian Schools in Illinois, made the decision to make wearing masks optional in the district’s classrooms. This decision was not made as a political statement, but as a calculated response to the arrival of the Delta variant and the public health challenges it poses. In essence, it was made through consensus and consideration. Nonetheless, they have lost their recognition as a non-public school over this decision.
“We’ve taken a prayerful and very methodical approach. We’ve determined that our goal, our goal is to stick with the Timothy Health Plan and thus remain mask optional,” Davidson explained in a statement. “At the end of our exploration, our research, if we discover that a mask optional policy is a dead end, then we’ll adjust and pivot. But again, for now, our current health plan will be our manual, which allows for choice in this issue of face coverings,” Davidson continued.
One would think that concession would mean something to Illinois authorities. After all, Davidson is acknowledging the often rapid changes in COVID-19 and making a commitment to following the science as it develops. However, that’s not good enough for the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Davidson’s decision contradicts Governor J.B. Pritzker, whose recent executive order mandated that all students at all levels (regardless of vaccination status) wear masks. Now, the ISBE is cracking down on those dissenters who would recognize parental liberty.
In a letter to Davidson, Carmen Ayala, Illinois’ state superintendent of education, announced that the ISBE removed Timothy Christian Schools’ status as a recognized nonpublic school. This means that students who graduate from Timothy during this period will forever have an “unrecognized” diploma, that Timothy students and families will be unable to participate in public scholarship programs, and that the school will be unable to participate in state-regulated athletic organizations.
The school will remain unrecognized until it complies with (or, more accurately, is coerced into following) state guidelines. Naturally, the plan is to make an example of Timothy so that other liberty-minded private and Christian schools around the state fall in line. This is a harsh reaction that puts parents in an awful position. Normally, derecognition is reserved for schools that fail to provide students a quality education, but Timothy students perform exceptionally well.
Mixing the normal standard of education quality with adherence to executive masking dictates is a dubious affair. One is a hyper-politicized issue while the other relies on objective assessments of student achievement. In essence, the ISBE is cracking down on private schools that disagree with it politically. For parents who wanted nothing more than to educate their children away from the eyes of one of the most corrupt states in the country, this is a bitter pill to swallow.
As a result, Timothy families are faced with the prospect of removing their children from a school that both caters to their needs and suits their values because Illinois wants to play politics. That does not seem like a sustainable model, but it is what the state has elected to do in the name of promoting COVID restrictions. Timothy Christian Schools provides a phenomenal education, but Illinois cares about masks and virtue signaling more.
If Illinois is willing to delegitimize a school (and potentially ruin the lives of students attending that school) over a political disagreement, what else are they willing to do? Today, it’s disagreements over COVID policy. Tomorrow, it could be an administrator voting for the wrong candidate, or teaching a philosophical or religious concept the state disapproves of. Illinois was given an inch as a result of the pandemic, and there is little reason to believe that they won’t take a mile. Now is the time to be alarmed.