SPRINGFIELD, IL — There is no confusion, only politics, when it comes to the controversy over mask and other COVID-19 mandates for Illinois schools, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Pritzker has had mask and vaccine mandates for schools in place through executive orders since the fall.
According to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, Pritzker’s emergency rules for schools to require masks, exclude “close contacts,” and require vaccine or testing for staff, aren’t in effect after being blocked by a bipartisan legislative panel last week.
Plaintiffs sued more than 160 school districts, state education officials and the Pritzker administration, saying their due process rights to challenge quarantine measures are violated by the mandates.
The governor appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday.
While he had previously announced a Feb. 28 end to the statewide mask mandate at most places, Pritzker signaled Wednesday that he would be lifting his school mask mandate, but didn’t give a specific date. He said the office needs that authority to require things like masks for everyone despite their health status for if there’s another variant, or another pandemic.
“We want to be able to do the right thing for the people across the state and so we hope that the supreme court will see that and rule on that despite the decision by the appellate court,” Pritzker said Wednesday in Decatur at an unrelated event.
Hundreds of school districts across the state have gone mask optional or mask recommended, rather than mask mandated, since the Sangamon County Circuit Court’s Feb. 4 ruling that the governor’s mandates are null and void.
Pritzker said there’s not a controversy.
“We actually don’t think there’s any lack of clarity,” Pritzker said. “The judge decided differently, but I also think there were some politics in that … The conflict is political, it is not what is in the written law.”
“That is a dangerous statement,” said state Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, who’s also running for the Republican nomination for governor. “We live in a free, constitutional republic. We’re smart enough to decide for ourselves whether or not we need to be wearing a mask or not.”
Bailey said the General Assembly has not taken up whether people’s due process rights should be changed.
“We’ve never once had a bill put in front of us to give the governor that authority, or to change law that makes masks a requirement,” Bailey said.
Other Republican gubernatorial candidates are also critical of Pritzker’s insistence on the mandates.
Former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said Pritzker’s insistence his mandates are in effect is a “complete disregard for the rule of law.”
“J.B. Pritzker needs to look at himself in the mirror and ask whether he is interested in supporting the rule of law in Illinois because clearly he is not,” Schimpf said.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin’s campaign said “Pritzker has ruled the state unilaterally under the guise of emergency powers.”
“It’s time for the governor to accept that the people of Illinois want their seat back at the table when it comes to the decision-making affecting their communities,” Irvin spokesperson Eleni Demertzis said. “Real leadership is representing these voices, something he has ignored for the last two years.”
Venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan said the governor “will stop at nothing to ensure he alone controls the lives of our school children.
“The governor has proven he only cares to listen to the most extreme ideologues within the Chicago Teachers Union and Washington D.C,” Sullivan said. “As governor, I promise to put parents’ voices first.”