McHenry Middle School is one of the numerous schools in McHenry County that will now be mask-optional, the school district announced. | Photo via McHenry School District 15

Multiple schools districts in McHenry County announced Sunday that they will not require students or staff to wear masks following the recent court ruling by an Illinois judge.

“Effective immediately, face masks will be strongly recommended but not required at school and at all school-related events for staff and students, as well as visitors and volunteers. Students and staff are still required to wear face masks on school buses per federal regulation as the court ruling has no effect on federal requirements,” said Crystal Lake District 47 Superintendent Kathy J. Hinz.

“Students will no longer be excluded from school due to being a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 nor will schools conduct contact tracing when there’s a positive case. Students will only be excluded from school due to illness at the discretion of the school nurse or other administrator. The 5-day school exclusions for exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or having ‘close contact’ status will cease,” Hinz said.

McHenry School District 15, Prairie Grove School District 46, and Harvard School District 50 also issued letters to their students, staff and parents saying that they would be mask-optional.

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“At least temporarily, close contacts will continue to be identified, and parents will be notified, but students will not be removed from school unless they develop symptoms. If your child is currently medically excluded with no symptoms, they may return to school on Monday,” Harvard School District 50 said.

McHenry School District 15 and Prairie Grove School District 46 both said they will not be contact tracing and not excluding close contacts.

“Families have different perspectives on these circumstances and situations. Beginning tomorrow in our District, there will be students and staff wearing masks and some not. Even though we all have different emotions and thoughts, one constant is that we must remain respectful to everyone regardless of their decision. Being respectful of others will remain a constant in our District culture,” Harvard School District 50 said.

Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow on Friday deemed the governor’s emergency rules through the Illinois Department of Public Health “null and void” when it comes to COVID-19 mitigations in schools.

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“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 said in the ruling.

“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 said.

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.

Approximately 150 of Illinois’ 840 school districts were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Those school districts named in the suit 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.”

The named school districts in the suit are also restrained from refusing attendance to students who are deemed a “close contact” of a confirmed COVID-19 case, and the schools cannot require their staff to be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing.

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Because Grischow ruled that IDPH and ISBE’s emergency rules are void, school districts in the state who were not part of the lawsuit can “govern themselves accordingly,” Grischow said.

Gov. JB Pritzker said his administration is appealing the ruling and there would be “grave consequences” due to the ruling.

“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.