Pritzker hopes to send Illinois mask mandate case to Illinois Supreme Court

Gov. JB Pritzker talks to reporters in Springfield, Illinois on February 16, 2022.
Gov. JB Pritzker talks to reporters in Springfield, Illinois on February 16, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 5:18 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Schools across Illinois are no longer required to follow a mask mandate as a downstate appellate court blocked the Pritzker administration from enforcing it. This is the latest development in the saga surrounding a lawsuit against hundreds of school districts and state leaders.

Emergency rules for masking, testing, and school exclusion expired on Sunday night, and the Illinois Department of Public Health tried to have them refiled. However, that attempt was blocked by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules Tuesday. The Fourth District Appellate Court said that decision made Gov. JB Pritzker’s attempt for an appeal of the circuit court ruling moot.

Pritzker stressed on Wednesday that school districts not included in the temporary restraining order must continue to enforce masking their buildings.

“The executive order is still in effect,” Pritzker said to reporters. “We still have a mask requirement in the state of Illinois for schools.”

Although, the appellate court said Judge Raylene Grischow’s decision in Sangamon County did not stop school districts from acting independently from Pritzker’s executive orders or rules from the Department of Public Health.

The governor was obviously disappointed with the court’s decision Thursday night and quickly asked Attorney General Kwame Raoul to request an expedited review of the case from the Illinois Supreme Court.

“The Appellate Court’s failure to address the important legal issues in question has added to the confusion resulting from the circuit court’s decision prioritizing a relatively small group of plaintiffs who refuse to acknowledge science or the need for public health measures to protect vulnerable Illinois residents,” Raoul said Friday morning.

Raoul feels the ruling does not affect the enforceability of Pritzker’s executive orders. Although, he said it fundamentally misapplied important principles of Illinois law related to temporary restraining orders.

This has also created more confusion for teachers and school administrators across the state. Albert Llorens, Vice President of the Illinois Education Association, said his organization always intended to keep students, teachers, and other staff safe.

“This has been politicized,” Llorens said during an interview Friday. “And quite frankly, as far as we’re concerned, politics has no place in the classroom.”

He explained that there have been reports of children afraid to go to their school because of angry parents protesting outside and yelling at them for wearing masks. Llorens says adults are following the court battle, but young children should not be thrown into the situation.

“Every day when a kid comes to school, they’re not thinking about what’s happening in the courts,” Llorens said. “They’re thinking about who is going to greet me today, who is going to help me today, who is going to teach me today. That’s where I want our focus to be all around the state.”

The Illinois Education Association says parents, community members, educators, and students need to come together to find thoughtful solutions to bring calm back into schools.

Still, a growing number of parents and lawmakers are celebrating the appellate court’s decision. Some argue it’s time to move forward and allow children to learn in a “normal environment” without a mask mandate.

“If a parent wants their child to wear a mask, have them wear a mask. Supply them with a mask that they feel is appropriate and have them wear it,” said Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis). “For those parents who don’t want to have their child wear a mask, don’t require it. Let’s let that be the policy going forward.”

Pritzker continues to encourage everyone to wear masks so students can stay in school for in-person learning.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie says Pritzker is failing to accept defeat while his “ego and desire for power” lead him through more decisions. He argues Pritzker is doubling down on his mask mandate and looking for total control of schools.

“It’s clear that the governor can’t stand the thought of loosening his grip on ruling unilaterally through this pandemic, thus he is willing to go to every extent possible to maintain that power,” McConchie said. “The fact that he is easing the mask mandate on nearly everyone but students just proves his true intentions.

The Pritzker administration says the statewide mask mandate will end for most indoor settings will end on February 28. However, mask requirements will continue where federally mandated, such as on public transit and in high-risk settings including healthcare facilities and congregate care. Pritzker previously noted that he would follow guidance from Dr. Ngozi Ezike and other health experts on when to remove masks in schools, although he hinted it would happen in a few weeks.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch also responded to the court’s ruling and encouraged masking.

“The Speaker has long been an advocate of the use of masks in this pandemic, especially to protect our most vulnerable,” said Jaclyn Driscoll. “With the teacher shortage and our educators being exhausted in general, wearing a mask seems like a simple step to keep everyone safe and our kids learning in-person.”

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