Illinois judge blocks school mask mandate, state appeals
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A central Illinois judge has issued a temporary restraining order that stops school districts across the state from requiring students to wear masks in classrooms, saying that Gov. JB Pritzker overstepped his legal authority with a mask mandate that angered many parents as well as teachers.
In a ruling issued Friday in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and teachers, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow also determined that several other Pritzker emergency orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, including one issued last year that mandates vaccinations for school employees, are “null and void.”
“This court recognizes the tragic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just in this state, but across the country and the world,” Grischow wrote in a ruling that affects 146 school districts in Illinois, including the Chicago Public School System. “Nevertheless, it is the duty of the courts to uphold the rule of law and to ensure that all branches of government act within the limits of the authority granted by the Constitution.”
Pritzker had harsh words for the judge’s decision and quickly urged the state’s attorney general’s office to appeal, suggesting the decision could spark a new outbreak of the virus and force schools to shut down and return to online classes.
“The serious consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe as COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and this may require schools to s ‘remove”, Pritzker said in a statement. “This shows once again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools in keeping schools open and everyone safe.”
Attorney General Kwame Raoul agreed with Pritzker that the decision would make it harder to protect students and school employees from the virus, and said he would appeal.
“This decision sends the message that not all students have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health conditions. “, Raoul said in a statement.
The ruling “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 fear of contracting a virus that has claimed the life to more than 31,000 Illinois residents — or bring this virus home to their loved ones,” he said.
In her ruling, the judge agreed with parents and teachers who argued that only local health departments, not the governor or school districts, have the authority to require such measures. The judge also agreed with the parents who argued that the state cannot require districts to require staff members to be vaccinated or tested weekly “without first providing them with due process.” “.