Illinois school mask mandate lawsuit: Sangamon County judge issues temporary restraining order, hundreds of districts at risk

CHICAGO (WLS) — The recent ruling on Illinois school mask mandates is now putting pressure on districts to decide whether or not to enforce Gov. JB Pritzker’s order.

Last week, a southern Illinois judge ruled against state school mandates, including masking, in response to lawsuits involving parents and teachers from more than 150 districts. It’s a move that the Illinois Education Association says could lead to school closures.

Although we already know that this court ruling will not change mask requirements in Chicago public schools, and Pritzker had said the state was expediting an appeal to have the judge’s order overturned. This is why, even if some schools have already decided to make the mask optional, others are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

As of Monday, thousands of Illinois schools have a decision to make. Will or will they not continue to enforce the governor’s mask mandate that has been in place since in-person learning resumed at the start of the pandemic?

“We shouldn’t have to fight every square inch for basic protection, but this is the time we live in where the few can trump the safety of the many,” CTU said in a press release following the decision.

For some, that’s not a problem. Chicago Public Schools and its 350,000 students will continue to mask up.

The CPS said in a statement last week that the court’s decision does not prohibit the school district from continuing with its COVID-19 mitigation policies and procedures, including universal masking, and that the district will “stay the course.” “.

For others, like Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst, masks will become optional.

“We have large spaces [and] large classrooms. We believe we can achieve this,” said Matt Davidson, Superintendent of Timothy Christian Schools. “We see it in many places, tens of thousands of schools across the country have been in lockdown all year.

Davidson said he believed he had the support of most of his school community. With nearly 1,300 students, Timothy Christian is the largest Christian school in Illinois.

“We have kids who are really hurting,” Davidson added, “and we just want to present an optional environment where those decisions for kids can be made at home and we’re going to respect them.”

While school boards across the state continue to debate the issue, others prefer to wait and see how the appeals process unfolds.

The Archdiocese of Chicago sent a letter to parents and students on Saturday saying they were “monitoring the matter closely.”

“Because future court rulings may come and go, and because changing our policies back and forth would create confusion and disruption in our schools, we will continue the current mask policy for now,” the officials said. officials of the archdiocese.

Notably, U-46 in Elgin, the second-largest school district in the state, has yet to make a decision about masks. District officials said their attorneys are continuing to review Judge Sangamon’s decision before making their own final decision – which they hope to announce Sunday evening.

“This decision has the potential to shut down our schools, effectively shut down our school buildings, and perhaps be powerful enough to shut down in-person learning entirely,” the Illinois Education Association said in a statement. “The shortage of teachers and education employees is at a critical level. Schools are closing because they don’t have enough healthy employees to run classes safely, even though staff continues to give up his schedule and lunches to cover classes.”

Geneva’s District 304 declared an emergency day on Monday as schools determine what they will do regarding masks, officials said Sunday evening. The day will be caught up on May 31.

Schools in Hinsdale District 181 are also declaring an emergency due to the mask decision and will be moved away on Monday, officials said.

Distribution of neighborhoods:

– Chicago Public Schools: Mandatory masks
– Timothy Christian Schools: Mask optional
– U-46 to Elgin: Undecided
– Barrington School District: Masks recommended but not mandatory
– District 200 in Wheaton: Masks recommended but not mandatory
– District 67 in Lake Forest: Masks recommended but not mandatory
– Geneva District 304: Undecided
– Hinsdale District 181: Undecided

Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday night he was seeking an expedited appeal. In the past, he’s managed to knock down similar challenges to his use of emergency powers. But for now, this decision is significant and could impact thousands of schools.

“School districts really need to listen and say we need to rethink what we’re doing here,” plaintiffs’ attorney Tom DeVore said.

Attorney Tom DeVore is representing hundreds of Illinois students and parents and several dozen teachers in more than 150 districts, including the CPS and some suburban school systems who have sued school mandates from the State with regard to vaccination, screening and masking.

SEE ALSO | Restaurant vaccination mandate, indoor mask rules could end ‘soon’ if COVID cases remain in free fall

In granting them a temporary restraining order, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene DeWitte Grischow said the warrants violate plaintiffs’ “due process rights under the law, giving them a significant opportunity to oppose such mitigations”.

“This is a very strong opinion that essentially accuses the governor, the executive, of circumventing the legal regime by trying to avoid judicial review by pushing through these emergency regulations,” the legal analyst said. from ABC7, Gil Soffer.

The order applies to plaintiffs – the students, parents and teachers who have sought relief – but it could have wider implications.

SEE ALSO | St. Charles Library temporarily closes in-person services after threats over mask policy

The judge wrote, “All unnamed plaintiffs and school districts in this state may govern themselves accordingly.”

“She’s saying what the governor and his agencies are doing is invalid,” DeVore said. “So if school districts want to do their own thing, do their own thing.”

Governor JB Pritzker issued an immediate appeal Friday night, saying, “The serious consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe.”

At this time, it’s unclear what the school districts will do on Monday. CPS declined to comment Friday night. The Illinois Federation of Teachers is calling on districts to continue their current practices.

Full statement from Governor JB Pritzker

Governor Pritzker has asked the Illinois Attorney General’s Office for an immediate appeal of Judge Grischow’s decision to block the state from enforcing safety measures designed to protect teachers, school staff, students and students. communities against COVID-19.
The Attorney General is seeking an expedited appeal from the Illinois Fourth District Court of Appeals.
“The serious consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe as COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and that may require schools to walk away,” Governor JB Pritzker said. “This shows once again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools in keeping schools open and everyone safe. As we have done since the start of the pandemic, the administration will continue to work to ensure that every Illinoisan has the tools necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”
“We remain committed to defending Governor Pritzker’s actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will appeal this decision to the Illinois Court of Appeals for the 4th District of Springfield,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said. . “This decision sends the message that not all students have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health conditions. The court’s erroneous ruling is wrong on the law, demonstrates a misunderstanding of Illinois’ state of emergency injunction proceedings, and bears no relation to the case that was before the court. a relatively small group of plaintiffs who refuse to follow widely accepted science over the rights of other students, faculty and staff to enter schools without fear of contracting a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 31,000 residents from Illinois – or bringing this virus back to their loved ones.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pritzker administration has put in place mitigation measures and programs to protect the health and safety of students, teachers, and school staff. To facilitate safe in-person learning, the administration provided schools across the state with 3.8 million masks for students, teachers and staff starting Jan. 12. The state has conducted more than 2 million COVID-19 tests in schools through the SHIELD program and sent more than 1 million rapid tests to schools outside the city of Chicago. Recently, the state provided 350,000 rapid tests to Chicago public schools to facilitate the return to in-person learning.
To increase access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccinations, the state has held 1,767 on-site vaccination clinics at schools and day camps, with 470 additional clinics already planned. Vaccinations, boosters, mask-wearing and testing are key to keeping schools open and maintaining safety standards for staff and students.

Full statement from the Illinois Federation of Teachers
The Illinois Federation of Teachers is deeply distressed by the judge’s temporary restraining order (TRO) in this case. Hundreds of thousands of Illinois students, teachers and staff are doing their best to stay healthy and keep schools open. We believe what the judge ordered today is legally flawed and poses a threat to public health and, most importantly, a threat to keeping Illinois schools open for in-person learning. Our children and their families need certainty and some normality in school, not legal wrangling handled by a small minority of citizens.
We urge the judge to stay her decision and the state to appeal as soon as possible. In the meantime, we will continue to advise our members on how to stay safe and healthy at work. We insist that school districts across the state adhere to existing health and safety agreements. In fact, the safety mitigations encompassed by state guidelines, along with vaccinations for children and adults, are the best ways to keep schools open and everyone healthy. And we will stand with our local unions to protect our members and the students they serve.

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