Bipartisan committee rejects emergency mask rule for Illinois schools

The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted Tuesday to reject an attempt to...
The Illinois Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted Tuesday to reject an attempt to reintroduce COVID-19 emergency rules for schools.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 4:25 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - The top committee of Illinois state lawmakers rejected an attempt to refile the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 emergency rules for schools Tuesday afternoon. IDPH’s previous rule expired Sunday, and the agency tried to refile the rule late Monday night. Lawmakers opposed that idea.

The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted 9-0 to reject IDPH’s attempt to reintroduce the emergency rules for school COVID-19 protocols. Two members voted present. The rule covered the masking, testing, and exclusion rules in place for months.

Several committee members said IDPH couldn’t move forward with their rule because it would go directly against a recent court ruling in Sangamon County. That case against the Pritzker administration and 145 school districts now sits before the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield as the governor hopes to overturn the ruling.

For now, lawmakers say the state should respect the Sangamon County court’s decision.

“To me, it’s an irresponsible action of government to just essentially thumb your nose at another branch of government that has properly ruled,” said Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove).

Curran said IDPH could’ve presented a rule giving due process rights to staff and parents who object to COVID-19 mitigations in schools.

IDPH Chief of Staff Justin DeWitt said the rule before the committee was an appropriate way to move forward for school districts not included in the court case.

Still, as of Tuesday, there is no rule in place. The Pritzker administration understood that JCAR members were waiting for the appellate court to rule on the issue. However, they continued to stress the importance of masks for all in schools.

“As doctors have said time and again, masks are the best way to preserve in-person learning and keep children and staff safe,” said Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh. “We look forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly, school districts, parents, communities, and all stakeholders to use the tools we have to keep in-person learning. In the meantime, the administration urges all schools and parents to encourage mask-wearing to keep everyone in their schools and communities safe.”

IDPH leaders claimed they did not want a disruption in protocols before the appellate court decides on the case. JCAR members felt the department had the opportunity to present a compromise rule instead of bringing the same rule that led to the court battle.

“You can’t enforce that rule because it’s been declared void by a court,” said Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego). “You re-issued it anyway. Wouldn’t guidance have worked just as well in this case while we’re waiting for this appellate court ruling to actually occur?”

Some argue Pritzker and other state leaders were willing to “further the confusion for schools” in order to keep his emergency rule in place. Sen. Bill Cunnigham (D-Chicago) joined the chorus of members asking DeWitte why IDPH decided to refile the rule.

“We refiled the rule in the best interest of the people and in our best in faith efforts to assist schools in handling COVID, specifically the non-defendant schools. Preserving the status quo was what was on our mind,” DeWitte said. “I can’t comment on the legal strategy around what’s going on with the appellate court. It would be inappropriate for me to say.

The Fourth District Appellate Court is expected to make a decision on the school mask case by Thursday.

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