Chester, IL - The community of Chester lost a hero last October, 2016, when Chester Police Officer James Brockmeyer was killed in the line of duty.
The wake and funeral were held at Chester High School, one of the only places large enough to hold the hundreds of mourners. Officer Brockmeyer had also graduated from Chester High School, according to Travis Lott at County Journal.
In order to prepare hold Officer Brockmeyer's wake at the high school, students had to be released early after three hours of attendance. And on the day of the funeral Officer Brockmeyer's funeral, classes had to be cancelled for that day.
It gave grieving community residents and students a chance to help. Chester school superintendent Rick Goodman said that "many students voluntarily participated after being dismissed from school to help with the preparation of the parade route and use of the school’s facilities." Many students were observed placing flags along the parade route.
The school claimed the partial day of attendance as an emergency. What happened next was totally unexpected. The Illinois State Board of Education denied payment to the high school for both days. This cost the Chester school district more than $19,000 in general aid payments and possibly thousands in transportation reimbursements.
The school district then contacted Regional superintendent Kelton Davis, for assistance with modifications to the school calendar. He notified the Illinois Board of Education. For months, superintendent Davis worked with attorneys from the Illinois BOE to address the issue. Superintendent Davis sent a letter in December, 2016, to the State Superintendent of Schools.
“It is clear that this was a circumstance beyond the control of the school and the law clearly allows for Chester to claim the day as a day of attendance. There was no other local option within which the community could conduct services, and the school was a fitting place to honor James,” said Davis. However, the state doesn't care, and is more interested in using an excuse to keep the money.
Senator Schimpf said “With all the cuts everyone is being forced to make, the school needs what is due to it. Services for our children are not negotiable." Rep. Costello worked with superintendent Davis and the Illinois State Board of Education to draft a bill that identifies the emergency use of schools for funeral-related services for community members as qualifying to interrupt a school day.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Schimpf and is expected to pass. If it is immediately signed by Governor Bruce Rauner, the school district should receive the already-budgeted revenue this year.
That bill would fund the partial day, but the school would still be able to get the money back from the canceled day if they add an extra day to the school year.
“If we have to, we’ll make it up because it was for a good cause,” Goodman said. “We’d make that same decision a million times over.”
UPDATE: Davis contacted us and provided more information:
- [Illinois State Board of Education] (ISBE) helped to craft the language of the bill that would permit the partial day of attendance for Officer Brockmeyer’s wake to be a full day of attendance.
- ISBE is a state agency and is required to follow the laws of Illinois even when “common sense” says otherwise. I would certainly not be comfortable when government may choose what laws to follow and what [laws] may be broken.
- Representative Jerry Costello (D) and Senator Paul Schimpf (R) have been tremendous supporters of our first responders and are sponsoring this bill to help rectify the situation so that ISBE may approve the day of the wake as a full day of attendance. Again, ISBE helped to craft this language. HB1254 is available HERE.