Pritzker: Executive order keeps school mask mandate in place despite JCAR vote

Gov. JB Pritzker responds to questions from reporters in Springfield on February 16, 2022.
Gov. JB Pritzker responds to questions from reporters in Springfield on February 16, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 3:56 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - There’s a new twist in the situation regarding the COVID-19 mask mandate in Illinois schools. The top committee of state lawmakers turned down the state’s attempt to re-file emergency rules for masking. However, Gov. JB Pritzker says his executive order for masking is still in place for schools not involved in an ongoing court battle.

During an unrelated event Wednesday, Pritzker said there is still a mask mandate requirement for schools due to his executive order. He claims Democratic members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules are waiting to see how the Fourth District Appellate Court acts on the lawsuit against 145 school districts.

Hundreds of school districts have already moved to mask-optional policies over the last few days even though the governor said it is not safe to remove masks in schools.

“We have to be careful. The pandemic is not over,” Pritzker said. “This disease is still out there. We’re just all learning I think over the last two years to make sure that we’re managing properly so that if another variant were to come that we’re not so quick to have everybody removing their masks.”

JCAR members told the Department of Public Health Tuesday that if the agency plans to file another emergency rule it should include due process rights for parents and school staff who oppose masks, testing, or exclusion.

WGEM News asked the governor if he’ll encourage IPDH to include due process in a future emergency rule. Although, Pritzker said he hasn’t considered it.

Pritzker hopes to hear from the Appellate Court within the next 48 hours to clarify what can be done for the schools involved in the lawsuit. He says the administration is trying to figure out what to do in the interim.

Some question why Pritzker won’t trust the decisions of parents and local school leaders. Yet, Pritzker quickly said Wednesday that he has listened to parents and doctors throughout the pandemic.

“The majority of parents in the state of Illinois and across the country believe that we need to keep a mask requirement in schools until it becomes safer. We’re still watching our hospitalizations take a dive, which is terrific,” Pritzker said. “And we’re not yet at a point where we ought to be removing that mask requirement.”

The governor noted he believes “people of goodwill” can make good decisions to keep their schools and communities safe.

Meanwhile, Attorney Tom DeVore and the Illinois Attorney General’s office were required to send letters to the Appellate Court Wednesday in response to Tuesday’s JCAR ruling. The higher court asked both sides to explain what the legislative ruling meant to the ongoing court battle.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said JCAR’s action does not substantially affect the pending appeals. He noted that JCAR’s action only impacted the renewal of IDPH emergency rules and does not affect Pritzker’s executive orders.

“Regardless of the validity or invalidity of the IDPH Emergency Rule and regardless of JCAR’s action on February 15, this court should decide the consolidated appeals from the temporary restraining order and determine the enforceability of the EOs,” Raoul wrote. “For the reasons stated in State defendants’ memoranda - the circuit court’s departure from the status quo, plaintiffs’ unlikelihood of success on the merits, their failure to establish irreparable harm, and the circuit court’s abuse of discretion in balancing the harms - this court should reverse and vacate the TRO.”

DeVore agrees the court should review the Sangamon County court’s decision to grant a temporary restraining order. Still, he argues abuse of discretion would only be found if the lower court’s ruling is “arbitrary, fanciful, unreasonable, or where no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court.”

The downstate attorney also wrote that JCAR members respected Judge Grischow’s decision and scolded IDPH officials for trying to reintroduce the same emergency rule under question.

“The plaintiffs argue Judge Grischow has not abused her discretion,” Devore wrote. “Her straining order should be affirmed, and the matter sent back to proceed to a final ruling on the merits off all the pending matters.”

The Fourth District Appellate Court should have a decision on the case Thursday.

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