Judge blocks mask, COVID testing requirements in some Illinois schools

(Stephanie Quirk)
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 8:03 PM CST
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QUINCY (WGEM) - A Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday that suspends enforcement of Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education Emergency Rules put into effect to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The restraining order states those rules are “null and void,” and cannot be enforced against the plaintiffs in the 145 schools involved in the lawsuit, unless the plaintiffs are given due process, which would require a quarantine order issued by the local health department.

The temporary restraining order only applies to school districts named in the lawsuit, including the Quincy School District, the Pleasant Hill Community School District, the Macomb Community School District, the Payson Community School District, the Pikeland Community School District, the Central Community School District, the Illini-West High School District, the Unity School District, the Liberty School District, the Schuyler-Industry Community School District, the Warsaw Community School District and the Carthage Elementary School District.

“If the Legislature was of the opinion that the public health laws as written were not satisfactory to protect public health from COVID, it has had adequate opportunity to change the law since March 2020,” Judge Raylene Grischow wrote in the court order.

“Given the Legislature has changed the law and has chosen not to change these relevant provisions, this court must conclude the laws which have been long in place to protect the competing interests of individual liberty and public health satisfactorily balance these interest in the eyes of the Legislative branch of government.”

“This temporary restraining order shall remain in full force and effect pending trial on the merits unless sooner modified or dissolved,” the order states.

The ruling was made in a case filed by attorney Tom DeVore last year on behalf of several plaintiffs.

DeVore said the ruling only applies to the plaintiffs in the case. But, in a footnote to the Order, the judge wrote, “Although this Court denied Plaintiffs’ request for Class Certification in Case No: 2021 -CH-500002, this Court has declared IDPH’s Emergency Rules void. Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly.”

“This is a huge deal. It’s something we’ve been fighting for for two years,” DeVore said. “My arguments have never changed.”

Pritzker’s administration stated it’s seeking an expedited appeal in the case.

“The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and this may force schools to go remote,” Governor JB Pritzker stated.

“This shows yet again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools to keep schools open and everyone safe. As we have from the beginning of the pandemic, the administration will keep working to ensure every Illinoisan has the tools needed to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, Pritzker added.”

“We remain committed to defending Gov. Pritzker’s actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will appeal this decision in the Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District in Springfield,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul stated.

“This decision sends the message that all students do not have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health concerns. The court’s misguided decision is wrong on the law, demonstrates a misunderstanding of Illinois emergency injunction proceedings and has no relation to the record that was before the court. It prioritizes a relatively small group of plaintiffs who refuse to follow widely-accepted science over the rights of other students, faculty and staff to enter schools without the fear of contracting a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 31,000 Illinois residents – or taking that virus home to their loved ones,” Raoul argued.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery issued a statement regarding the ruling.

“The Illinois Federation of Teachers is greatly distressed at the judge’s temporary restraining order (TRO) in this case. Hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, and staff across Illinois are doing their best to remain healthy and keep schools open. We believe what the judge ordered today is legally faulty and a threat to public health and, most importantly, a threat to keeping Illinois schools open for in-person learning. Our children and their families need certainty and some normalcy at school, not legal wrangling managed by a small minority of citizens,” Montgomery said.

Quincy Public Schools superintendent Roy Webb released a statement on the subject Saturday night through a Facebook post.

“We have done all we can to keep children safe, especially our most vulnerable. Our prayers are that the vaccine will do that now for our students still at risk. We live in the western part of the state. I cannot debate medicine, but I can debate children. For masks to be effective, they must be a proper mask, a proper fit, and consistent use. Our students have done an amazing job in school,” Webb said. “They have been content and compliant. Yet their masks are sometimes not of the proper type, they often slip below the nose or below the chin, and to be honest, many of our students only wear their mask in school. Simply our geographic location on the Missouri and Iowa border makes mask enforcement a daily challenge for staff and administration. If you go to any event in our area, few masks are worn. All the enforcement has fallen to the schools. Enforcement will now be even more difficult, if not impossible.

RELATED: https://www.wgem.com/2021/10/20/dozen-local-school-districts-among-145-named-lawsuit-over-covid-mitigations/

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