Republican candidate for 6th Congressional seat removed from school board after suing over mask mandate

A Republican congressional candidate has been removed from his seat on a suburban school board after he was accused of violating his oath of office by suing the district and state officials over the mask mandate in schools.

The Oak Lawn High School District 229 board voted Wednesday night to remove Rob Cruz from the panel. Cruz, an Oak Lawn resident who's running for the 6th House District seat now held by Democrat Sean Casten of Downers Grove, was elected to the school board last year.

On Thursday, Cruz said he is disappointed by the board's actions and expressed concern that it didn't follow proper procedure - although he acknowledged not knowing what the proper procedure for removing a board member might be.

"We are going to review what steps were missed, if any, in the process," Cruz said. "This is not the end. This is just the beginning."

As of Thursday morning, Cruz's name and photo had been removed from the Web page for the District 229 board.

Cruz had come under fire by his peers on the board and District 229 administrators for filing a lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state schools Superintendent Carmen Ayala in August over the state's mask order. The suit, filed in Cook County circuit court, noted Cruz was acting "in his official capacity as a Member of the Oak Lawn Community High School District 229 School Board."

Under state law, school board members cannot take action on their own or on behalf of the board or district. The school board has formally said it doesn't support litigation against Pritzker or Ayala and that District 229 will follow directives from the state.

Cruz withdrew the first lawsuit but in early September filed a new one that added a second plaintiff and named District 229 as a co-defendant. That case, which was filed in Sangamon County but then was moved to federal court before being dismissed by a judge, has cost the district more than $25,000 to defend, documents indicate.

The second suit violated a state law that says board members should protect their districts from lawsuits, District 229 officials said. The lawsuit also created a conflict of interest for Cruz, officials alleged.

Additionally, officials said Cruz violated state law and board policy by speaking about government overreach at a Lyons Township High School District 204 board meeting in November, at which he identified himself as a District 229 board member despite not being authorized to speak on the board's behalf.

District 229 officials also accused Cruz of violating his oath and the board's code of conduct by using his status as a board member to promote his congressional campaign in a December news release.

The school board voted 6-1 to remove Cruz by declaring a vacancy on the panel; Cruz was the lone dissenter. It'll be up to the board to appoint a successor.

Cruz is one of six GOP candidates running for Casten's congressional seat this year. The newly redrawn 6th District includes much of the western and southwestern suburbs.

Casten is seeking a third term. A campaign spokesman declined to comment on Cruz's ouster Thursday.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Marie Newman of La Grange, who now represents the 3rd District, is running in the 6th this time around, too.

The other GOP hopefuls are Keith Pekau, Niki Conforti, Catherine Anne O'Shea, Gary Grasso and Scott Richard Kaspar, Federal Election Commission records show.

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