VANDALIA, IL — As a group of schools continues to get court protection against punishment from the Illinois State Board of Education, another Illinois district is gearing up for a legal fight to make masks optional.
Illinois is one of around 15 states AARP says still require masks in schools to slow the spread of COVID-19.
For months, several school districts have been defying Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandate. This week, an Effingham County judge continued a temporary restraining order against the state on behalf of a group of schools that have masks optional.
Attorney Thomas DeVore, who represented three districts in the Effingham case, said on social media the ruling means ISBE is barred from implicating his clients’ recognition status for not having a mask mandate.
The next hearing is on Dec. 3.
In Vandalia, School Board Vice President Joe Schall said they were unanimous this week in returning to mask optional policies starting Dec. 6.
ISBE has vowed to investigate and punish districts that fail to mandate mask use. Schall anticipates the district will have to spend money on attorneys to defend against that.
“Our budget is $100,000 for our tort, so we’re going to set up a trust,” Schall said. “There will be more details to follow, but if you feel necessary, if you feel compelled to donate to the cause as our legal bills may go over our budget, you are more than welcome to do that.”
Vandalia school board member Ryan Lewis said they were unanimous for a variety of reasons. COVID-19 numbers are controllable, there are treatments and vaccines are available for those 5 and older.
“It’s time for us to begin the transition to learning how to live a life with COVID,” Lewis said. “We have everything available to us to offer protection to those that want it.”
Lewis noted practically every element of Pritzker’s five-phase reopening plan from May 2020 has been met, except for “no new cases over a sustained period.”
“To be honest with you … that’s not really something that’s realistic,” Lewis said. “COVID is here to stay so we’re always going to have cases of COVID. The question is do we have everything we need to protect ourselves, we believe the answer to that is ‘yes.’”
As of Thursday, no schools have been put on probation under new rules ISBE was compelled to issue following other litigation from private schools.
To date, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 20 deaths under the age of 17 in Illinois “involving COVID-19.”