Springfield District 186 school board votes to terminate teacher who skirted COVID mandate

Steven Spearie
State Journal-Register
Kingsley Keys, a music teacher at Franklin Middle School, stands up as the Springfield School District 186 board of education votes to dismiss him after he defied a state mandate requiring teachers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or submit to weekly testing during a board meeting at the District 186 Headquarters in Springfield, Ill., Monday, November 15, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

In Kingsley Keys' estimation Monday, the door finally shut on his 20-plus-year teaching career in Springfield School District 186.

But even after the board of education voted to terminate Keys as a music teacher at Franklin Middle School for skirting an Illinois mandate requiring teachers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or submit to weekly testing, he hardly seemed bitter, even thanking the school board for letting him teach here.

"Now that this door is shut, I'm really excited to see what those doors are going to be that open next," Keys said afterward.

The 6-0 vote came after school board president Anthony Mares read the notice of charges and dismissal. There was no discussion following the vote. Bill Ringer of Subdistrict 7 was absent from the meeting.

See also: Springfield Ballet Company's board president, artistic director resign

Keys had until last week to come under a remediation plan set out by the district. He is on unpaid leave until Wednesday.

Keys has until Dec. 2 to request a hearing with the district.

Keys, who stood while the board voted, said he was thinking of "the number of kids and students I had been able to impact and talk to and love and mentor in those 20-plus years. Now I'm on to something different. I fully believe that God has led me through this in a very personal way with (my wife) and my family."

Ultimately, Keys said, he couldn't put "my paycheck over my principles and I won't sacrifice my strong personal values just to maintain a career."

Keys added he had "a great relationship" with Springfield District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill and with his principal, Todd Davis.

Kimberly Smoot, a teacher at Springfield High School, spoke in support of Keys during the public comment section.

"This is just wrong," Smoot said. "He is standing up for what he believes in. We should be able to do that. He drew a different line in the sand than I have.

"When that line is moved a little bit more, so many people will not work for the school district and they will leave their jobs, just like Kingsley is doing and I'm one of those people."

That was a reference, Smoot said, to entities like District 186 moving away from a COVID-19 testing option. Smoot said she tests weekly because she is not vaccinated.

Diana Deweese displays a sign Monday for members of the Springfield School Board to see that says “Thank you for caring for the health and well-being of our children!” during a board meeting where they were voting to dismiss a teacher that defied a state mandate requiring teachers to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or submit to weekly testing. “I’m concerned about the well being of the children and I appreciate the actions of the board,” said Deweese of why she displayed the sign for school board members to see during the meetin at District 186 headquarters. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Jennifer Rockwell, a music teacher at Fairview Elementary School, thanked the district for enforcing guidelines set out by the Illinois State Board of Education about the mandate and the school board "for setting an example for our students" by following the rules "even if it has been hard and unpopular with some people."

Rockwell never mentioned Keys by name.

Board member Micah Miller, prior to the vote, thanked district employees who had been "dedicated to the mission of keeping schools open safely from day one, those employees who have focused on what it takes to serve our students and their families."

After the meeting, Gill admitted she had a pit in her stomach.

"You don't want to see someone lose their livelihood," said Gill, a former teacher in the district. "You don't want to see a teacher who is good at what he does lose his job. I respect Kingsley and the work he's done with students over time so that made this extraordinarily difficult tonight and I think every board member feels the same way.

"My job is that I run a school district and have a highly-qualified teacher in a classroom for every child and for the last seemingly two months we have not had a teacher in that classroom. We've not had someone who's been highly qualified to teach the subject he taught, so that was a disservice to students as well. This allows us to open a door to get a teacher in who can teach the subject."

More: Patients upset, employers scramble as Springfield Clinic poised to exit Blue Cross network

Gov. JB Pritzker issued an executive order in August under which teachers and other school personnel had to get fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.

Another teacher who defied the mandate, Kadence Koen provided the district proof of her vaccination status on Nov. 6. Koen returns to her classroom at Southeast High School Friday.

Keys wouldn't confirm that he is taking legal action against the district.

District 2 Board Member Micah Miller displays a graph of COVID-19 cases from the Sangamon County Department of Public Health as he thanks teachers Monday for their efforts to keep students in school during a Springfield School Board meeting at the District 186 headquarters. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

"The board knows there are many lawsuits happening all around the state," Keys said. "Any legal action that is going to be successful will be a win for teachers everywhere." 

City Tournament changes

For the first time, the boys and girls City Basketball Tournaments will be held together at the Bank of Springfield Center.

There will be quadruple-headers Friday, Jan. 21 beginning at 4 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 22 beginning at 3 p.m. The order for the boys and girls games those evenings hasn't been determined.

There will be two girls games Wednesday, Jan. 19 to tip things off. Two boys games will be played Thursday, Jan. 20. No times were announced.

"One big thing is getting the girls on the (BoS Center) floor and letting them have that same exciting feeling, we want to give them the stage and the opportunity to hear the bands and see cheerleaders and the poms and hear the cheering crowds," Gill said. "It's going to provide four great days of basketball. It'll be long days, but we're looking forward to it."

Unity Day with the superintendent's roundtable will be held Saturday prior to Saturday's tip-off.

Bringing 'an outside classroom to life'

Second-grade students from Fairview Elementary School are back to their classroom this week.

That classroom just happens to be the Kidzeum of Health and Science, in downtown Springfield.

The students are part of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Residence Program through the end of the week.

"They're still learning math and they're still doing English and reading and literature, but they're doing it in the context of the Kidzeum and the many cool exhibits that they have to offer," Gill said.

Executive director Leah Wilson and the Kidzeum board helped the district "think outside the box and design this (curriculum)," Gill said. "I believe in Kidzeum. To see it come to life ... we wanted to make sure we're helping be a part of revitalizing it and exciting the kids. It's bringing an outside classroom to life."

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.