Pritzker administration requests appeal of ruling in school mask, COVID testing lawsuit

Gov. JB Pritzker and other state leaders hope the Fourth District Appellate Court will act...
Gov. JB Pritzker and other state leaders hope the Fourth District Appellate Court will act swiftly to dissolve the temporary restraining order against 145 school districts enforcing COVID-19 mitigations.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 6:44 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Some parents and students in Illinois are celebrating after a Springfield judge granted a temporary restraining order against 145 school districts enforcing COVID-19 mitigations. However, the Pritzker administration has filed a notice to appeal the court’s ruling.

Gov. JB Pritzker says the Sangamon County judge’s decision cultivated chaos for parents, families, teachers, and school administrators.

“Judge Raylene Grischow’s ruling is out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis in Illinois and across the nation,” Pritzker said during an unrelated press conference Monday. “Most importantly, it constrains the ability of the named school districts to maintain safe in-person learning requirements.”

Pritzker didn’t hold back his criticism of Grischhow’s decision that shook up the state’s COVID-19 requirements for some schools. The temporary restraining order (TRO) covers districts from the Chicagoland area to northern Illinois and many schools in the heart of anti-mitigation downstate communities.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed the notice for appeal late Sunday night with the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield. This notice says Pritzker, the Illinois State Board of Education, State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and Dr. Ngozi Ezike request the court reverse and vacate the circuit court’s decision.

They hope the Appellate Court will dissolve the TRO to keep everyone in schools safe.

“Hundreds and even thousands of people in a community are affected when there’s an outbreak in a school that’s gone maskless,” Pritzker said. “That affects not only whether a school will go remote, but also whether workers are local businesses will get sick.”

Tom DeVore, representing hundreds of parents in the suit, fully expected the administration’s attempt to appeal. Although, the downstate attorney has won seven straight school COVID-19 mitigation cases.

“So for him to suggest that it’s out of step, he’s trying to gaslight people and do some kind of narcissistic mind-bend on people because it’s a complete and utter lie,” DeVore said Monday.

He also noted that Grischow declared IDPH’s COVID-19 emergency rules for schools void. DeVore said there are now more than 200 school districts going mask optional and stopping the testing requirement for teachers and staff.

Yet, Pritzker emphasized that schools not included as defendants in the lawsuit should continue to follow the state’s mask, testing, and school exclusion protocols.

“Listen, you oughta err on the side of protecting everybody in the school and particularly all the people who interact with the school. That’s the goal,” Pritzker said. “That was always the goal.

Still, DeVore also believes state lawmakers should have taken action if they wanted the governor’s school COVID-19 orders to become law. He feels their inaction speaks volumes.

“The people have finally had enough,” DeVore said. “If the school districts in this state are mask-optional and the parents keep doing what they’re doing, this case doesn’t matter anymore. It doesn’t matter. Why do you think we have 41 states that don’t have these mechanisms in place? Is it because of court rulings and decisions? Overwhelmingly, no. It’s because the people been put up with it.”

Pritzker has mentioned several times over the past week that he is considering easing public masking guidelines soon. But, he has not put specific metrics in place for people to plan for a full return to society without face coverings. Pritzker said hospitalization data is key to that change. He asked reporters to think back to where the state was last year when the mask mandate was removed.

“I believe on June 11 we removed mask mandates,” Pritzker said. “Then, as you saw a month and a half later or so, we saw these numbers start to rise. We became concerned particularly about schools coming back in and the transmission of the virus through schools into communities. So we began to ask people to put masks back on.”

Even if Pritzker announces people can remove their masks soon, the governor said there may come a time when Illinois requires another mask mandate. He claimed that is why the administration is trying to appeal the Sangamon County case.

DeVore said he understands what Pritzker is trying to accomplish. The attorney feels Pritzker is trying to “stop the bleeding” and not have school districts move to mask-optional votes on their own without his support.

“Once that genie gets out of the bottle, it’s really hard to put it back,” DeVore said. “Leave the lawsuit out of it, the people of this state overwhelmingly say they’re done. That will filter into their school boards and the school boards will say they’re done. The governor will have to concede because he will have lost control.”

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