SPRINGFIELD, IL — Following mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates in schools being deemed null and void by a circuit court judge, Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to continue battling parents and staff in court.
Pritzker’s mandates have been in effect since last fall. Separate lawsuits from hundreds of plaintiffs challenged the mandates with the cases heard over several days last month.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow Friday said in a ruling granting a temporary restraining order against the mandates that the governor’s orders seemed to try and work around individual due process in law and called the bureaucratic maneuvering a “type of evil” that the law was intended to constrain.
The judge ordered districts to temporarily halt requiring masks and excluding children from school and stop requiring vaccines or testing for teachers, unless there’s individual due process. She said all non-named districts may govern themselves accordingly.
“Although this Court denied Plaintiffs’ request for Class Certification … this Court has declared [Illinois Department of Public Health]’s Emergency Rules void,” a footnote in the ruling says. “Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly.”
Attorney Thomas DeVore, who filed the separate cases on behalf of more than 700 plaintiffs against nearly 170 school districts, the Pritzker administration and state education officials, argued state statute requires due process for medical devices or procedures to be forced on someone.
“I can only hope this might be the time for the Governor to lift what the Court has found to be illegal mandates and let the good people of this state get back to their lives,” DeVore told The Center Square after the ruling.
Before the ruling was issued Friday evening, Pritzker still wouldn’t say when he’ll lift his mask mandate in schools.
“I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can,” Pritzker said Friday afternoon. “I’m constantly listening to the doctors and scientists and encouraging them, ‘when can we do this, what’s the right time, what’s the right way to do it.’ And so, very hopeful we can make an announcement about that.”
After the ruling blocking mandates Friday evening, the governor said in a statement he is seeking an expedited appeal in the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court in an effort to restore his rules.
“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,” Pritzker said. “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.”
DeVore had previously said he expects the case to go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.
While some districts said without mandates they will go remote, other districts with mask optional policies all year have done so without much disruption.
Separately, the Illinois State Board of Education is expected to make a recommendation on vaccine and testing mandates for school staff that would then be brought before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
Meanwhile, an analysis from Johns Hopkins University found government restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 came with high economic and social costs and limited public health benefits.
“While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects, they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted,” the authors of the study wrote. “In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”
Asked for reaction, Pritzker Friday said his No. 1 focus was “keeping people alive … safe and healthy.” In the spring of 2020, there was then a 10-week stay-at-home order closing schools and other in-person businesses. That was followed by months of dialed-in capacity restrictions dictated by the governor without any check from the General Assembly.
“It’s the right thing to do, and we’re gonna very carefully evaluate how to keep people safe and healthy while we might bring down the mitigation levels,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker still has a statewide indoor mask mandate in place.
State Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, said the governor shoulders the blame for the negative impacts from restrictions.
“He seems to forget that he’s the one that tells parents that they have to mask their kids or nurses have to choose between vaccination or a job and he shut down businesses, not COVID,” Niemerg told The Center Square.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty released the results of its latest research about school closures over the past two years. It found the mitigations hurt all students across that state, but, according to a study released Friday, the closures hurt low income and minority students the most.
“On average, in schools that shut down in 2020, rates of proficiency declined by about 4.8% more in math and 1.6% more in ELA than schools that remained open,” researchers noted.
In Illinois, Pritzker ordered schools closed to in-person learning in the spring of 2020. Remote learning was implemented and many districts carried that into the fall semester of 2020 and into the spring of 2021. In-person school was required in the fall of 2021, but some districts have been utilizing an “adaptive pause” in coordination with local health authorities evaluating COVID-19 numbers.
The governor’s most recent 30-day disaster proclamation on COVID issued Jan. 7 is set to expire Sunday.