SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A central Illinois judge has issued a temporary restraining order that prevents school districts statewide that were sued from requiring students to wear masks in classrooms, saying Gov. J.B. Pritzker overstepped his legal authority with a mask mandate that has angered many parents and teachers alike.
However, school districts that were not involved in the lawsuit are now trying to interpret how that ruling affects them. Some will stay with their mask rules, while others see the ruling as an opportunity to make masks optional.
In a ruling issued Friday in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and teachers, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow also determined that several more of Pritzker’s emergency orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, including one issued last year that mandates vaccinations for school employees, are “null and void.”
“This court acknowledges the tragic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, not only on this state but throughout the nation and globe,” Grischow wrote in a ruling that affects 146 Illinois school districts, including the public school system in Chicago. “Nonetheless, it is the duty of the Courts to preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the boundaries of the authority granted under the Constitution.”
Pritzker had harsh words for the judge’s decision and quickly urged the state’s attorney general’s office to appeal, suggesting the ruling could spark another surge in the virus and force schools to close their doors and revert to online classes.
“The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities — and this may force schools to go remote,” Pritzker said in a statement. “This shows yet again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools to keep schools open and everyone safe.”
Attorney General Kwame Raoul agreed with Pritzker that the ruling would make it more difficult to protect students and school employees from the virus, and said he would appeal.
“This decision sends the message that all students do not have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health concerns,” Raoul said in a statement.
The ruling “prioritizes 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 the fear of contracting a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 31,000 Illinois residents — or taking that virus home to their loved ones,” he said.
CPS says masks will remain
Both Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union said the mask mandate for schools in Chicago will remain in place despite the ruling.
The district said it’s staying the course.
CTU said the judge’s ruling undercuts the safety of its members, students and families.
But that may not be the case for the rest of the school districts the ruling impacts. It was issued in response to a lawsuit naming 146 districts, filed by a group of parents and teachers.
Pedro Martinez, the chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools, issued a statement on Saturday saying that the CPS protocols — including a mask mandate for students — would stand.
“The court’s ruling does not prohibit CPS from exercising its authority to continue its COVID-19 mitigation policies and procedures,” Martinez wrote.
Timothy Christian Schools superintendent says they are ready for choice
Matt Davidson is the superintendent of Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst. He said the temporary restraining order gives his families the choice they’ve been wanting for months.
“We’re anticipating come Monday our staff and students can wear masks with utmost dignity and respect or go without a mask with utmost dignity and respect,” he said. “Most of our community has preferred to be mask optional and we’re seeing more and more of our children our young ones really suffering. … Sometimes daily I get stories from parents just sharing how their child is just sinking further and further, socially emotionally learning loss.”
“We’re hoping we can continue in a mask-optional environment and that this restraining order will be upheld,” Davidson said.
Davidson shared his perspective from a Christian Schools conference in Arizona where he says many of his colleagues from around the country are going home to schools that don’t require masks.
“It is being done. And we believe we can do that too,” he said.
The attorney general says an appeal will be resolved within two weeks.