Gov. JB Pritzker said there would be “grave consequences” and that he would appeal after a judge issued an order blocking his mask and vaccine mandates in Illinois schools.
Pritzker asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office for an immediate appeal of the court’s decision, which restrains the state from enforcing certain COVID-19 measures in schools.
The attorney general is seeking an expedited appeal from the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court, the governor’s office said.
“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. 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,” Pritzker said.
In a 30-page ruling late Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow “deemed null and void” the governor’s emergency rules through the Illinois Department of Public Health concerning COVID-19 mitigations for schools.
“The arbitrary method as to contact tracing and masking in general continue to raise fair questions as to the legality of the Executive Orders in light of violations of healthy children’s substantive due process rights,” Grischow wrote.
“Statutory rights have attempted to be bypassed through the issuance of Executive Orders and Emergency Rules … This type of evil is exactly what the law was intended to constrain,” Grischow added.
Schools impacted by litigation brought by more than 700 parents and dozens of school staff are temporarily restrained from enforcing Pritzker’s COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates.
Grischow noted in the ruling that although she previously denied the plaintiffs’ request for class-action status, the court has declared IDPH and ISBE’s emergency rules void. “Thus, non-named plaintiffs and schools districts through this state may govern themselves accordingly.”
Pritzker’s mandates for masks and exclusion policies in schools and vaccines or testing for teachers have been in place since last fall.
Despite COVID-19 metrics “going in the right direction,” Pritzker on Friday still would not say when he would lift the mask mandates.
“I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can,” Pritzker said before Grischow’s ruling.
“I’m constantly listening to the doctors and scientists and encouraging them, ‘when can we do this, what’s the right time, what’s the right way to do it.’ And so, very hopeful we can make an announcement about that,” Pritzker said.
The Pritzker administration and school district defendants are temporarily restrained from enforcing the executive orders, the judge said.
School districts are restrained from requiring masks if a person objects, “except during the terms of lawful order of quarantine issued from their respective health department, in accordance with the IDPH Act.”
Attorney Thomas DeVore argued on behalf of parents and their students and school staff that in order for an individual to be required to comply with a public health measure like masking, vaccines or testing, or to be excluded from school, they must be given due process by law.
“I can only hope this might be the time for the Governor to lift what the Court has found to be illegal mandates and let the good people of this state get back to their lives,” DeVore told The Center Square after the ruling.
Districts are also restrained from requiring staff who are unvaccinated from submitting to weekly COVID-19 tests “in order to occupy the school building without first providing them due process.”
Grischow’s order also restricts schools from refusing admittance to their buildings for teachers and students if they are deemed a “close contact” of a confirmed probable COVID-19 case “without providing due process.”
“We remain committed to defending Gov. Pritzker’s actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will appeal this decision in the Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District in Springfield,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said late Friday evening in a statement.
“This decision sends the message that all students do not have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health concerns. The court’s misguided decision is wrong on the law, demonstrates a misunderstanding of Illinois emergency injunction proceedings and has no relation to the record that was before the court,” Raoul said.
The Center Square and Lake and McHenry County Scanner both contributed to this story.