Illinois School Mask Mandate Ruling: What Parents Need to Know

We break down on what the ruling means for Chicagoland students.

Masking in schools has been a hot button issue as parents, teachers and administrators continue to navigate an evolving pandemic. The recent ruling on Feb. 4, by the 7th Judicial Circuit Court judge Raylene Grischow, granted a temporary restraining order that lessened the ability for schools to require masks and vaccinations for students, faculty and staff.

The order was a culmination of lawsuits brought by Greenville attorney Thomas DeVore on behalf of several hundred parents and teachers, statewide. It also voided emergency rules from the Illinois State Board of Education and Illinois Department of Public Health. 

The ruling begs the question: What’s next for school districts as they scramble to untangle the fine print of this decision?

What happened in the ruling?

Grischow’s temporary restraining order blocks the school districts named in the lawsuit from imposing mask requirements as well as vaccination and testing requirements for staff without “due process.” It also voided rules regarding close contact and confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as how to handle quarantine.  

What does it mean for individual school districts in Illinois?

The legal ramifications of the ruling last Friday remain uncertain as an emergency appeal by the state attorney general, Kwame Raoul, asks to dissolve the restraining order. However, it is unknown as to when a judge will take the case, and therefore, school districts are in a state of disarray as parent groups became vocal with opposing sentiments.

Some of the largest districts in the state, such as Chicago Public Schools, Elgin Area School District U46 and District 204 have not succumbed to the pressures, reiterating their stance on masking for staff and students. Other districts such as Arlington Heights School District 25, Burbank School District 111 and Crystal Lake Community Consolidated School District 47 have decided to make masks optional after the ruling.

Are there COVID-19 policies still in place?

The lawsuit has imposed a fluid approach to the mask mandate policy currently in place at many Illinois schools. However, those schools that have decided to embrace the ‘mask recommended’ option, have noted that some COVID-19 protocols will remain. 

Prophetstown Lyndon Tampico Community School District has made it clear that masks will still be required on school buses. The Sherrard Community School District voted for temporary ‘masks optional’, but stated that they will adhere to all IESA and IHSA guidelines.

This could mean that students will have to wear masks during competitive activities, to avoid any interruption to extracurriculars, such as sports and clubs. Still other schools, who have opted for continued mask mandates, are separating students who are choosing not to mask in classrooms with a virtual daily agenda.

What’s happening with the appeal?

The Illinois attorney general’s office is seeking an expedited appeal from the Fourth District Appellate Court, under Governor JB Pritzker’s directive, demanding a stay to Judge Grischow’s decision. As of Monday afternoon, there has yet to be a ruling on the motion for an emergency stay, which would allow schools to continue lawful mitigation strategies already in place for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Pritzker announced that the state-wide mask mandate will be lifted on Feb. 28 for restaurants, grocery stores or other indoor spaces. The mandate still plans to require masks for schools, daycares, healthcare settings, long-term care facilities, congregate settings and daycare.

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