Attorney general appeals decisions lifting masks in schools to Illinois Supreme Court
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn two lower court decisions that upended Gov. J.B. Pritzker's COVID-19 mask mandate in schools.
The appeal filed Tuesday asks justices to reverse a 4th District Appellate Court decision last week that declared Pritzker administration orders requiring face masks in schools had expired. Raoul also asked justices to vacate a temporary restraining order issued by a Sangamon County judge Feb. 4 that lifted the mask policy in school districts named in lawsuits filed by parents who opposed the mandate.
The result has been a hodgepodge of mask policies across the state along with multiple protests on both sides of the issue and walkouts by students.
"The lack of clarity in the law in this area caused by the circuit and appellate courts has practical effects, too, as school districts, parents, students, and staff across the state struggle to understand what is required of them going forward," Raoul wrote.
"In those districts that have (erroneously) elected to rely on the circuit court's temporary restraining order to lift these important mitigation measures, students and school personnel will face increased exposure to COVID-19, risking additional transmission within schools and in the broader community, increased hospitalizations and deaths, and staff shortages that could require a transition to fully remote learning or even school closures."
The attorney general asked justices to expedite his request for an appeal.
Lawyers for parents have argued the Pritzker administration exceeded its authority in issuing emergency rules requiring masks and other COVID-19 mitigations.
The state and school districts "are infringing upon the lawful right of the students, and of their parents or guardians, to be free to choose for themselves whether mask wearing ... for the purpose of limiting the spread of an infectious disease, is, absent a court order, appropriate, especially where the defendants have used, as a sword, direct and unabashed threats to the students right to an education if they refuse to comply," attorney Tom DeVore argued in an Oct. 25, 2021, lawsuit naming 145 school districts.
Students "who are otherwise perfectly healthy" are being caused irreparable harm by "being forced to wear a mask allegedly to prevent the spread of an infectious disease, with such impending threat to their education being used to coerce action not otherwise require by law."
A state legislative panel voted Feb. 15 against renewing an IDPH emergency rule on COVID-19 mitigations and masking in schools. Appellate court justices on Feb. 17 said the expiration of the emergency rule rendered Raoul's earlier appeal of the temporary restraining order moot, leaving school districts free to make their own decisions about masks.
Asked about the case at an event in Decatur, Pritzker said, "the appellate court because of the desire of the legislature to punt, frankly, decided they would punt too. So now this is going to the Supreme Court. This really is about what do we do in the next emergency. What happens if we have another omicron wave, or God forbid, at some future date, another pandemic?
"We hope that the Supreme Court will rule on that despite the decision by the appellate court."