Suburban school districts scramble to resolve mask question as students return to class

This story has been updated from its original version to remove a portion regarding Naperville District 203's status in the downstate lawsuit.

Suburban school districts continued to grapple Sunday with the fallout from a downstate judge's order effectively prohibiting mask requirements for students across the state, with some declaring masks will be optional beginning Monday.

Other districts said mask requirements will remain in place for now and at least one, Geneva Unit District 304, canceled classes for the day while officials figure out what to do next.

"Our district administration continues to work with our faculty and staff to process additional considerations regarding how these developments may impact our current mitigation strategies," Superintendent Kent Mutchler wrote in a message to the school community Sunday afternoon. "While the ruling came out Friday, the district continues to receive information that needs to be considered."

Elgin Area District U-46, the second-largest school district in the state, will continue to require masks, Superintendent Tony Sanders announced Sunday evening.

"We are getting so close with our ever-declining cases to returning to a sense of normalcy, which likely will include a movement toward masks being optional," Sanders wrote. "I am asking that we continue to support the safety of our students and our staff by wearing masks for now."

Others, including Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Wheaton Warrenville District 200, said masks will be optional beginning Monday.

"I fully realize that this is a sudden change in how our schools have been operating and it will be met with differing responses from our school community members," District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler wrote in an online message. "Regardless of your family or personal choice about masking, I am asking everyone to lead with kindness and respect. It is important that we are respectful of each other's personal decisions. We will not tolerate bullying or disrespectful behavior of any kind."

Neighboring Naperville District 203, however, announced it would continue to require masks.

"The legal situation continues to be fluid," Superintendent Dan Bridges wrote in an online message. "We anticipate further updates as the legal process plays out over the following days and weeks, and will share this important information with the community."

While schools leaders scrambled to make decisions, state leaders were awaiting an appellate court ruling on their request for a stay on the order lifting the mask mandate. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul's office on Saturday filed for an emergency stay, saying the temporary restraining order issued by Sangamon County Judge Judge Raylene Grischow "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."

In St. Charles, District 303 will be closed for an emergency day Monday to "implement and respond to" the restraining order's requirements, according to an email sent to parents Sunday. When students and staff members return Tuesday, the district will be "recommending but not requiring mask usage."

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