CHICAGO — Illinois schools are no longer required to mandate masks for their students, according to a court ruling.
An Illinois appellate court late Thursday evening dismissed Gov. JB Pritzker’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling which blocked his mask mandate in schools.
In rejecting the governor’s appeal, the court called it moot after a legislative committee this week did not renew the mask mandate implemented by state health officials.
Earlier this month, Pritzker announced that by the end of February, he will lift the requirement for face coverings in some indoor locations, but wanted to keep it in effect for schools. He set the date for Feb. 28 citing a decline in Covid cases.
The governor on Friday said he was disappointed the court’s decision and concerned for the health of those in schools. In a statement, Pritzker said he’s “working with the Attorney General to request an expedited review of this decision from the Supreme Court.”
Read his full statement:
The Governor is disappointed in the appellate court’s decision and concerned for the health of those in schools – particularly vulnerable children and adults – and the ability to continue in-person learning. The administration is working with the Attorney General to request an expedited review of this decision from the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Governor urges everyone to continue following the doctors’ advice to wear masks so students can remain safely learning in classrooms, and is encouraged that the court made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place.
Chicago Public Schools issued the following statement Friday morning saying they will continue to enforce masking:
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) stands by our proven COVID-19 safety mitigation measures and is pleased the Appellate Court has confirmed that the Temporary Restraining Order does not prohibit school districts from independently requiring masks, vaccinations for staff, and requiring individuals who have tested positive or have been exposed to COVID-19 to learn/work from home. Our schools will continue to enforce these policies, including mandated universal masking. These safety measures are what have allowed us to provide our students with the in-person learning environment they need throughout this school year. We will continue to follow these protocols until such time as our public health partners advise us that restrictions can be safely lifted.
We are encouraged to see COVID-19 cases dropping, and we remain optimistic about what this will mean for our school communities in the future. Our top priority remains the safety and stability of CPS students, staff, and families.
Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow on Feb. 4 rendered the order “null and void.” She agreed with students and teachers from more than 150 school districts that no one could be excluded from school for health reasons without family consent or a public health order.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul appealed the ruling Feb. 7, seeking a temporary restraining order. He argued enforcing Grischow’s ruling could mean “widespread transmission” of the coronavirus “within schools and in the broader community, increased hospitalizations and deaths, and school staff shortages” leading to a return to remote learning or even school closures.
Pritzker argued the ruling only applied to the school districts named in the lawsuits. He counseled any district not covered by Grischow’s order to continue requiring masks for students and staff.
The judge’s decree also invalidated other Pritzker orders, including required vaccinations for school employees.
Thursday’s court ruling stated the following:
“The language in the “temporary restraining order in no way restrains school districts from acting independently from the executive orders or the Illinois Department of Public Health in creating provisions addressing COVID-19.
Thus, it does not appear school districts are temporarily restrained from acting by the court’s TRO.
None of the rules found by the circuit court to be null and void are currently in effect.
Accordingly, for the following reasons, we dismiss defendant’s appeal because the expiration of the emergency rules renders this appeal moot.”
On Feb. 4, a Sangamon County judge issued the temporary restraining order against the mask mandate which Pritzker appealed.
That judge’s ruling caused a lot of confusion for school districts.
Some districts interpreted that as a go-ahead to go mask optional. Others kept the mask requirement as they waited for clarity from the appellate court.
Students and parents in several suburbs protested and demanded they be allowed to decide whether to mask or not.
On Tuesday, the general assembly’s bipartisan joint committee on administrative rules decided not to renew the mask mandate as it waited for the appellate court’s guidance.
The appellate court says the rules voided by the Sangamon County judge are long longer in effect — making the matter moot.