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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Many school districts statewide were left to their own devices Monday on whether they wanted to continue to follow Gov. JB Pritzker’s mask mandate. 

The chaos comes after a downstate judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents districts across the state from requiring students to wear masks inside their schools. While Pritzker has asked the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to appeal the decision, several schools statewide have done an about-face on mask enforcement.  

“The judge’s decision cultivates chaos for parents, families, teachers and school administrators across the state and I’ve asked Attorney General Kwame Raoul to seek to have the ruling overturned with all possible speed,” Pritzker said.  

But until that happens, legally, school districts can make their own choice on whether to follow the mask mandate in the classroom or side with the judge’s ruling, says Northwestern Professor of Law Nadav Shoked.

“At this point until the Governor and the attorney general get a higher court to overrule this lower courts’ decisions, schools are going to do whatever they want based on their political and also policy preferences because each can pick and choose,” Shoked said.  

In response to the lawsuit filed by parents and teachers from districts across Illinois regarding masks in classrooms, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow wrote, “The court acknowledges the tragic toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken, not only on this state but throughout the nation and globe, nonetheless, it is the duty of the courts to preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act with the boundaries of the authority granted under the constitution.” 

Shoked said he was surprised by the judge’s action, saying it’s early in the litigation process for this decision as the lawsuit is still making its way through the court system. 

“I personally would not necessarily agree with her on the ruling itself,” he said. “I think where the ruling is most problematic is in merely giving the remedy now. When you give a remedy before the trial is over, you need to explain why. If you don’t give the remedy now, there is going to be harm where it cannot be remedied later on.” 

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So far, some school districts across Illinois have canceled classes, enacted new mask rules based on kids’ ages, and parents are leading protests. Certain districts like Chicago Public Schools announced that they would continue the mask mandate despite the ruling.  

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a city public safety update that the “judge specifically exempted districts where collective bargaining agreement is in place, so while I don’t agree with the judge overall, the judge’s order, as I understand it, and I haven’t had the chance to look at it yet, it specifically exempts collective bargaining agreements, so we’re completely consistent.” 

Pritzker said he remains hopeful that the decision will be overturned quickly at the state level, noting concern about another surge in Covid cases and a possible return to remote learning if the ruling stands.  

“Masks keep kids safely in school in person, which is what we all want,” Pritzker said.

Shoked says the argument of the ruling is precisely that the state used the wrong agency to adopt rules and that Pritzker did not go through the proper procedures.

Shoked says the arguments presented are weak and expects that the state’s appeal will overrule the judge’s decision, although he adds it’s hard to say how quickly that could happen.