Illinois Judge Blocks School Mask Mandate; State to Appeal

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
February 5, 2022 Updated: February 6, 2022

An Illinois judge has granted a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit that sought to end mask mandates in schools districts statewide, effectively blocking the masking requirement and other mitigation measures, prompting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office to declare that it will appeal the ruling.

Sangamon County Judge Raylene DeWitte Grischow said in a Feb. 4 ruling that the defendants—Pritzker, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and more than 140 school districts—are barred from enforcing school mask mandates, exclusion protocols, and COVID-19 testing requirements.

The ruling, which explicitly states that some of the measures are “null and void,” comes in a case that saw parents file suit against a series of COVID-19 restrictions as set out in a number of Pritzker’s executive orders. The executive orders directed students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings, required people unvaccinated against COVID-19 to submit weekly negative tests in order to occupy school buildings, and refused entry to buildings for students and teachers who were “close contacts” of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases and if they refused to submit to a test.

The premise for Grischow’s decision was, essentially, that the suing parents have due process rights in objecting to the various mitigation measures that are violated by blanket statewide executive orders.

“This Court acknowledges the tragic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, not only on this State, but throughout the nation and globe,” the decision reads. “Nonetheless, it is the duty of the Courts to preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of the authority granted under the Constitution.”

Grischow’s ruling temporarily blocks Illinois public school districts from requiring students and teachers to mask up, unless a local health department issues a quarantine order.

The court decision also bars districts from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly negative tests in order for individuals to enter school buildings, unless such individuals are first provided with the due process of law.

The ruling also states that teachers and students deemed a “close contact” of an individual infected with COVID-19 can’t be denied entry to school buildings, with a similar caveat of due process having to be provided to individuals that object.

Following the ruling, Pritzker said in a statement that he has asked the state attorney general to seek an expedited appeal of the decision.

“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. “As we have from the beginning of the pandemic, the administration will keep working to ensure every Illinoisan has the tools needed to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'