SPRINGFIELD, IL — It’s now been two years that COVID-19 has been in Illinois and for most of that, children have had to wear masks in schools, when they’ve been open. An expected ruling from a circuit court could change that.
The case of more than 700 parents suing more than 140 school districts over mask and exclusion mandates on children without due process is under advisement by Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow. She said earlier this month to not expect a ruling before Friday.
Earlier this month, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Verticchio argued in court for the mandates he said were necessary because of COVID-19.
“The governor’s masking and close-contact exclusions were done under his constitutional authority and the Emergency Management Agency Act,” Verticchio said.
Attorney Thomas DeVore argued the mandates are trampling individual due process rights now nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re not here asking you to say ‘masks should never be worn,’” DeVore said. “We’re not here asking you to say that children should never be excluded. We’re here asking you to say ‘if those are going to happen that meaningful rights under the law be provided to these citizens.’”
Several school districts have said if the judge blocks the mandate, they may have to go into remote learning out of concerns of spreading COVID-19. Other districts have had mask optional policies all school year with little disruption. Schools without mask mandates face penalties from the state education board.
Illinois is one of 13 states that require masks in schools in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who issued the mask mandate in August, said Thursday it’s hard to say what the ruling will be.
“My job is to protect the people who go to school here in Illinois, to make sure that our schools remain open and the best way to do that is to ensure people are wearing masks,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker also promoted vaccinations as a way to keep schools safe.
A ruling on a separate case in Sangamon County with dozens of school staff suing 22 school districts and the Pritzker administration challenging vaccine or testing mandates is also expected soon.
DeVore has previously said regardless of how the judge rules, he expects the cases to go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.