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Illinois judge blocks school mask mandate, state to appeal

A central Illinois judge dealt a major blow to Governor Pritzker’s school mask mandate and issued a temporary restraining order last Friday that prevents school districts statewide from requiring students to wear masks in classrooms.

In the ruling issued in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and teachers, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow said Governor J.B. Pritzker overstepped his legal authority with a mask mandate that has angered many parents and teachers alike.

As of Monday, the court’s temporary restraining order means schools would no longer have to enforce a mask mandate for students, or a vaccine or testing mandate for staff.

Governor Pritzker has asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office for an immediate appeal from the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court of Judge Grischow’s decision to restrain the State from enforcing the safety measures aimed at protecting teachers, school personnel, students and communities from COVID-19.

Judge Grischow also determined that several more of Pritzker’s emergency orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, including one issued last year that mandates vaccinations for school employees, are “null and void.”

“This court acknowledges the tragic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, not only on this state but throughout the nation and globe,” Grischow wrote in a ruling that affects 146 Illinois school districts, including the public school system in Chicago. “Nonetheless, it is the duty of the Courts to preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the boundaries of the authority granted under the Constitution.”

Pritzker had harsh words for the judge’s decision, suggesting the ruling could spark another surge in the virus and force schools to close their doors and revert to online classes.

“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 in a statement. “This shows yet again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools to keep schools open and everyone safe.”

“I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said, adding that he was consulting with doctors and scientists about the need for continued COVID-19 mitigation measures.

In her ruling, Grischow agreed with the parents and teachers who argued that only local health departments, and not the governor or school districts, have the authority to require such measures. The judge also agreed with parents who argued that the state cannot require districts to force staffers to get vaccinated or test weekly “without first providing them due process of law.”

**NOTE: Please read both articles on the front page of this issue regarding updated mask mandate.

Arthur CUSD #305 issued the following statement on Sunday, February 6:

Mask & Staff Testing Update

As you may be aware, there is a lawsuit pending in Sangamon County involving numerous plaintiffs suing many districts across the state. The lawsuit challenges various aspects of the State’s Covid-19 requirements for schools, including mask requirements and the exclusion of close contacts. Our District is not a party to this lawsuit.

Arguments on a temporary restraining order (TRO) concluded in both cases and the judge released her decision at 5 pm on Friday, February 4, 2022. While the TRO does not apply to our District, the District is going to exercise its inherent local authority because the state is temporarily enjoined from enforcing the executive orders.

This is a temporary restraining order, which is by its very definition “temporary”, and is not a final disposition of the issues.  A TRO temporarily enjoins the actions of the parties, but it is not a permanent injunction and is not necessarily a reflection of the final merits of the case.

Please take note to recognize that this is a temporary status at this stage in litigation.

An appeal was expected by either side after the decision was released. Reportedly, the Attorney General is appealing this decision at the appellate court level on Monday. A decision by the appellate court will be made within ten days or less after the judge’s decision. A stay could be granted which would extend the Governor’s Mandates until a decision by the appellate court. The appellate court could uphold or reverse this court’s decision.

The District has been and remains committed to being open for in-person learning after the initial outbreak and we have remained open for in-person learning throughout the pandemic to better serve our students and families.

Consistent with the Return to School Plan originally adopted by the Board of Education prior to the executive orders, beginning tomorrow, the use of universal masking is highly recommended for all staff and students but is not required within the building.

The last couple of years have been rough, to say the least. The District is proud that we have been able to navigate through the peaks of the spread of COVID-19 and keep our schools open and in-person. We are proud of all of our employees who have sacrificed extra time and effort for our students during this global pandemic.

Thank you for all that you are doing to help us help your students!

Mr. Shannon Cheek

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