Judge blocks mask, COVID testing requirements in 145 schools, including several Central Illinois districts

Mask mandate null and void for these area school districts.
Mask mandate null and void for these area school districts.(25 News/Heart of Illinois ABC)
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 9:47 PM CST
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UPDATE: The Pritzker administration is now looking to push back on a ruling letting certain schools avoid COVID-19 testing and masking requirements.

In response to the Sangamon County ruling, the Governor filed an emergency motion to ‘stay’ the restraining order late Friday night. That means he’s seeking to appeal the judge’s ruling. That decision will have to happen in the next five days.

PEORIA (25 NEWS and 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 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 Dunlap #323, Metamora Township High School, Metamora Community Consolidated, Riverview Community Consolidated #2, Germantown Hills #122, Eureka #140, Prairie Central #8, Roanoke Benson #60, Brimfield #309, Morton #709, El Paso-Gridley #11, and Limestone #310

“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.

“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.”

“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.”

In a statement released late Friday night, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said the organization is “greatly distressed” at the judge’s temporary restraining order.

“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. We urge the judge to stay her ruling and the state to appeal it as soon as possible. In the meantime, we will continue to advise our members on how to remain safe and healthy at work. We insist that school districts statewide abide by existing agreements on health and safety. In fact, the safety mitigations encompassed by the State’s guidance, as well as vaccinations for children and adults, are the best ways to keep schools open and everyone healthy. And we will stand with our local unions to protect our members and the students they serve.”

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