By GREG BISHOP
The Center Square
SPRINGFIELD – Some Illinois school districts said they would continue to enforce mask mandates while others decided to go mask optional or even close after a circuit court judge late on Feb. 4 ruled Gov. J.B. Pritzker's mask and vaccine mandates null and void.
Pritzker’s mandates have been in effect since last fall. Separate lawsuits from hundreds of plaintiffs in about 150 schools challenged the mandates with the cases heard over several days last month.
Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow on Feb. 4 said in a ruling granting a temporary restraining order against the mandates that the governor’s orders seemed to try and work around individual due process in law and called the bureaucratic maneuvering a “type of evil” that the law was intended to constrain.
The judge ordered districts to temporarily halt requiring masks and excluding children from school and stop requiring vaccines or testing for teachers, unless there’s individual due process. She said all non-named districts may govern themselves accordingly.
Attorney Thomas DeVore, who filed the separate cases on behalf of more than 700 plaintiffs against nearly 170 school districts, the Pritzker administration and state education officials, argued state statute requires due process for medical devices or procedures to be forced on someone.
“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.
Before the ruling was issued, Pritzker still wouldn't say when he’ll lift his mask mandate in schools.
"I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can," Pritzker said Friday afternoon. "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."
After the judge’s ruling blocking mandates, the governor said in a statement he is seeking an expedited appeal in the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court in an effort to restore his rules.
“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. “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 one’s safe.”
DeVore had previously said he expects the case to go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.
While some districts said without mandates they will go remote, other districts with mask optional policies all year have done so without much disruption.