Pritkzer’s Illinois School Mask Rule Takes A Big Hit; Unmasked Schools Coming Soon?
The masks could soon be coming off in Illinois schools, finally, officially.
While many schools have already begun removing mask regulations, and many students and staff have been refusing to wear them since covid numbers have plummeted in recent weeks, technically the mask mandate put in place by Gov. JB Pritzker has remained the rule statewide.
However, that mandate took a huge hit yesterday when a bipartisan legislative committee rejected Illinois Department of Public Health’s attempt to reintroduce the governor’s emergency COVID-19 protocols for classrooms across the state.
The department’s emergency rules — which served as the state’s official guidance on masks, testing and exclusion for those exposed to the coronavirus in schools — expired on Sunday, but emergency rules were re-filed and put back into place on Monday, for a seamless transition.
However, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, an oversight panel featuring both Democratic and Republican lawmakers tasked with reviewing rules made by state agencies, voted 9-0 to suspend the emergency rules,. The committee made the decision based in large part due to an on-going court battle that resulted in a temporary restraining order preventing dozens of school districts across the state from requiring students to wear masks in classrooms.
“We’re currently in a situation where the TRO said this rule was not enforceable,” said state Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, who is a member of the committee. “It’s possible, if not probable, that this might change on appeal but for now, as we sit here, for that reason, I vote yes [to suspend the emergency rule].”
Pritzker announced earlier this month that he would be removing the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28, but would be keeping it for schools, causing an outcry among parents and school staffs.
Thousands of students and parents statewide in Illinois have been defying Gov. JB Pritzker’s order for mask mandates in schools upon the announcement of Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow last month granting a request from downstate attorney Tom DeVore to temporarily halt the governor’s executive orders on masking and quarantining for schools. Grischow issued her temporary restraining order on Feb. 4 in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and students representing more than 100 school districts.
Covid numbers in Illinois continued to drop this week. Illinois public health officials reported 2,538 new COVID cases and 73 related deaths Thursday. There have been 3,010,525 total COVID cases, including 32,249 deaths in the state since the pandemic began.
Across social media, parents from schools throughout the state posted pictures and messages about their children not wearing masks anymore, and the parents posted celebratory messages calling for a permanent end to masks in schools and during school activities. Many parents shared pages from the ruling as well as screenshots from the grassroots conservative political action group in part driving the lawsuit, Awake Illinois.
Last week, Pritzker slammed Grischow’s ruling as “poor legal reasoning,” and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul appealed it to the Fourth District Appellate Court.
State Rep. Keith Wheeler, the co-chairman of the committee, lauded the ruling, along with other Republicans.
“Locally elected school boards who are accountable to parents and know best for their districts, along with their local health department experts, should be allowed to make decisions on COVID mitigations that fit their communities best,” Wheeler said in a statement.
Pritzker’s office disagreed with the assessment, and said that they would continue to monitor the situation and work to preserve in-person school learning.
“As doctors have said time and again, masks are the best way to preserve in-person learning and keep children and staff safe,” said Pritzker spokeswoman 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.”
For more information on this ongoing situation, continue to monitor QuadCities.com.