School association doesn’t expect ISBE to enforce mask mandate ‘at this point’

School association doesn’t expect ISBE to enforce mask mandate ‘at this point’

ILLINOIS (IRN) — An association representing large school districts across Illinois expects the issue of mask mandates to eventually dissipate, despite the attorney general appealing to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, a circuit court judge ruled Pritzker’s mask and exclusion policies for students and vaccine or testing mandates on staff null and void. Thursday, an appeals court dismissed the governor’s appeal. The attorney general is appealing to the Illinois Supreme Court, saying the governor’s mandates are still in effect.

“The Appellate Court’s failure to address the important legal issues in question has added to the confusion resulting from the circuit court’s decision prioritizing a relatively small group of plaintiffs who refuse to acknowledge science or the need for public health measures to protect vulnerable Illinois residents,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said.

Large Unit District Association Executive Director John Burkey told The Center Square “things continue to be in turmoil, in terms of the guidance that actual districts are getting.

“What I think, it’s pretty clear we are progressing to a point where masking will not be required statewide in schools and I think with the appellate court decisions … we are just one step, maybe one big step closer to that,” Burkey said.

While some of his member districts are still requiring masks because of COVID-19 transmission rates in their areas, Burkey said many of his districts are going mask recommended.

“But I think our districts are much more looking at this now as a local issue than they were a couple of weeks ago [after the circuit court decision],” he said.

The Illinois State Board of Education won’t say if they’ll continue to pursue nonrecognition status for the growing number of schools that are going mask optional in defiance of Pritkzer’s insistence that his orders still stand.

Since the governor’s orders in August, ISBE has pursued punishing schools, public and private, for not enforcing mask mandates, or having written mask-optional or recommended policies. The agency was rebuffed by the courts and by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules leading to changes to the process.

In the most recent updated list published Jan. 7, ISBE has about seven private schools listed as recommended for non-recognition status, with two on probation. Four public schools are listed as on probation.

A request for comment from ISBE on whether the agency will pursue non-recognition for a growing number of mask-optional schools, or how many such districts there are, was not returned. A statement was provided instead. 

“We are disappointed in the appellate court’s decision and concerned for the health of those in schools – particularly vulnerable children and adults,” State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said. “We hope to do everything we can together to preserve the ability to continue in-person learning.”

“The court has made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place,” Ayala said. “School district leaders should continue to consult with your own legal counsel as to the specific impact of the decision on your school district.” 

As to district concerns of being punished by ISBE, Burkey said districts feel this may soon dissipate.

“I do not think that they expect ISBE will be pursuing that at this point,” Burkey said.

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