Masks no longer required in Illinois schools after Pritzker backtracks

Masks no longer required in Illinois schools after Pritzker backtracks

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Masks are no longer required in schools after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a sudden reversal in his policy late Friday.

Friday morning, Pritzker’s office said at 12:01 a.m. Monday, the statewide mask mandate was being lifted for all places except health care and congregate settings, public transportation, and daycares. Pritzker said he’d review how that goes before lifting his mandate in schools.

While some parts of the state have been following the governor’s indoor mask mandate, other areas have gone mask optional with mixed compliance and little enforcement.

Over the past three weeks, hundreds of school districts across the state have also gone mask optional. That follows a series of decisions in the courts and a bipartisan legislative panel blocking the governor’s mask, exclusion and vaccine or testing mandates in schools.

Then Friday afternoon, Dr. Greta Massetti with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced masks will now only be recommended in schools where local COVID-19 metrics are high.

“And we know that also because children are relatively at lower risk from severe illness that schools can be safe places for children, and so for that reason, we’re recommending that schools use the same guidance that we are recommending in general community settings,” Massetti said.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Supreme Court Friday evening declined to hear the governor’s direct appeal of a lower court’s ruling against his mandates in schools. The state’s high court vacated a temporary restraining order citing the appeals court ruling the governor’s appeal was moot.

The appeals court said Pritzker’s appeal was moot because the bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules blocked the governor’s mandates.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the circuit court.

“We are pleased the [Illinois Supreme Court] acted quickly to vacate the TRO, as the state requested,” the Illinois Attorney General’s office said in a statement late Friday. “However, as the case is returned to the circuit court, we will continue to defend the governor’s executive orders to protect all Illinois residents and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Pritzker issued a statement on Twitter Friday evening saying he’s “gratified” the state’s high court canceled the restraining order against enforcing his mask and exclusion rules, “meaning that if a school mask mandate needs to go into effect in the future, we continue to have that authority.”

State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, is on the JCAR panel that blocked the governor’s rule earlier this month. He said Pritzker’s statement Friday “is indicative of his refusal to respect the actions of the two other co-equal branches of Illinois Government.”

“The plain fact is that Gov. Pritzker lost his right to appeal,” DeWitte said. “His spin-doctoring is just another attempt to save face on an issue where he was clearly acting outside of his authority. … Governor Pritzker has taken this case as far as it can go, and it’s time for him to acknowledge that he represents just one of three branches of state government that hold equal power.”

The attorney that brought the case on behalf of hundreds of parents and dozens of school staff said the issue has always been about due process.

“Even though the temporary restraining order is not in effect, [Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow’s] legal analysis is still the law of the state because neither the appellate court or the supreme court overruled her legal analysis,” attorney Thomas DeVore told The Center Square Friday evening. “If you wanna quarantine a child which includes masking, which includes excluding a child out of school, they have to get due process.”

Pritzker’s Friday evening statement also announced that the school mask mandate is lifted Monday because of the CDC’s updated guidance.

“We will recommend that all school districts follow CDC guidance and will update our existing guidance in the coming days,” Pritzker said.

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