School mask issue to go to Supreme Court

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After an appellate court declined to rule on a Sangamon County judge’s decision that issued a temporary restraining order against school mask mandates, Gov. JB Pritzker announced he would take the issue to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Shortly before midnight Thursday, the appellate court issued an order describing the state’s appeal as “moot.” Recently, a legislative committee suspended the Illinois Department of Public Health emergency rules discussed in Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow’s ruling, leading the appellate court to note that as the rules are no longer in effect, there are no rules in question. 

Perhaps the largest takeaway from the appellate court’s order is that Illinois schools may enforce their own COVID-19 mitigations – they just are not bound by the emergency rules relating to mask mandates and other COVID procedures mentioned in the TRO. 

“We note that the language of the TRO in no way restrains school districts from acting independently from the executive orders or the IDPH in creating provisions addressing COVID-19,” Justice John W. Turner wrote for the appellate court. 

This is a key point for local control advocates. This stance, often cited at school board meetings, argues the mitigations needed vary from community to community. 

“The Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court’s decision released late last night makes one thing clear: school districts are free to implement their own safety measures around COVID-19. And they should,” Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said on Friday. 

On Friday, Prizker’s administration said it will ask the state supreme court for an “expedited review” of the appellate court’s decision.

“The administration is working with the attorney general to request an expedited review of this decision from the Supreme Court,” Pritzker’s press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said. “In the meantime, the governor urges everyone to continue following the doctors’ advice to wear masks so students can remain safely learning in classrooms, and is encouraged that the court made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place.”

Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) released a statement that painted the appellate court’s ruling as a check on the governor’s power.

“Throughout this entire pandemic, the Governor has done everything he can to consolidate his unilateral power over our state’s response,” she wrote, later continuing, “The people of Illinois have had enough of his go-it-alone approach and non-stop attempts to control their lives. The Governor needs to learn to respect the other two co-equal branches of government and share the decision-making process.”

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said Thursday night’s decision left much to be desired.

“Late last night the Appellate Court declined to issue a substantive decision in the appeal, and we are disappointed by the court’s ruling,” he said in a press release. “The Appellate Court’s failure to address the 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.”

For more on the temporary restraining order, click here. Read the full appellate court order here.

(Some reporting courtesy of Capitol News Illinois)

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