ILLINOIS (IRN) — The issue over mask mandates in Illinois schools hasn’t gone away, despite all schools that weren’t complying having their state-sanctioned recognition status restored. It comes as legal challenges to the mandate across the state are poised to be consolidated.
Schools listed as either on probation or as not recognized for not complying with the governor’s mandates were moved back to fully recognized last week. Several private schools had their status immediately revoked while public schools were put on probation before their status was listed as not recognized. After judges in Kendall and Effingham counties said there can’t be different protocols for how to punish schools, ISBE filed new rules. Kristen Kennedy, a deputy legal officer with ISBE, told the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules that the new rules will level the playing field.
“It will establish a framework for schools to exercise their due process rights by detailing how public and nonpublic schools can appeal changes in their recognition status,” Kennedy said. “And it will add greater specificity to the appeals process.”
The month prior, JCAR unanimously demanded they bring back new rules to put nonpublic schools on par with public schools when it comes to enforcing the mandates. Friday, with new rules filed, a spokesperson for ISBE said recognition has been reinstated across the board. “ISBE will continue to take swift action to ensure compliance with the public health requirements that are in place to protect the health and safety of students and educators and to ensure students can continue to learn safely in person,” said ISBE spokesperson Jackie Matthews.
Meanwhile, the mandates face court challenges from across the state and the Illinois Supreme Court will have to decide where to consolidate them together. Attorney Thomas DeVore says he filed a motion with the supreme court to consolidate cases in Macoupin County after he and the AG’s office agreed all similar challenges across the state should be lumped together.
“It makes sense for a lot of reasons and we agreed that we should do that for judicial economy and plus the supreme court would likely consolidate them all anyways,” DeVore said. In DeVore’s filing, he attached an email from Oct. 8, 2021, where he said the attorney from the AG’s office “and I have agreed in principle to consolidate all existing cases of parents or teachers against school districts into Macoupin County.”
The AG’s office asked that the cases be moved to Cook or Sangamon counties, not Macoupin County where DeVore has one case involving 145 schools. “Sangamon County is an appropriate venue because the Office of the Governor, as well as headquarters for ISBE and one of two IDPH offices, are located in Springfield, which is in Sangamon County and is also the seat of Illinois government,” the AG’s filing said. “Sangamon County thus is a convenient forum for the State Defendants.” Denying he’s venue shopping, DeVore that’s “100%” what the state is doing. “Sangamon County, it’s the same court system as Macoupin County, so that’s clearly judge shopping on their part, because Sangamon and Macoupin are for all intents and purposes the same court system,” DeVore said.
The AG’s office didn’t respond to the allegation they’re venue shopping when reached for comment.