Lawsuit halts Illinois mask mandate in some schools

How this ruling affects RB and what the future may hold.

RB+students+are+still+required+to+wear+masks+as+of+now.

Carmen Guerrero

RB students are still required to wear masks as of now.

Liam Mathews, Editor-in-chief

It was about two years ago that whispers of a highly contagious virus spreading in Wuhan, China, first began to circulate through the halls and classrooms of American schools. That virus, COVID-19, would shut down schools and the world for months. Despite a return to in-person learning in Illinois school districts, the pandemic’s effects are still felt today. 

For some Illinois students, those effects are being repealed this week. In accordance with the ruling of a Sangamon County judge placing a temporary restraining order on Governor J.B. Pritzker’s statewide mask mandate, masks are optional for students in some schools across Illinois. This ruling has left many Illinois students, parents, teachers and administrators confused as to what their school’s policy regarding face coverings will be going forward, and whether they have the power to change that. 

This lawsuit placed two motions before Judge Raylene Grischow. The first motion claimed that Pritzker’s mask and vaccine mandates, requiring face coverings be worn in school, and unvaccinated public school faculty members receive a weekly COVID test, had been passed illegally. This motion was decided by Grischow, therefore striking down mask and vaccine mandates in the named school districts. The lawsuit’s second motion sought to file this as a class action lawsuit, therefore applying the first motion’s ruling to the state as a whole. Judge Grischow did not agree with this motion, which is why school districts not named in the suit, including District 208, still have to follow the mask mandate.

Governor Pritzker is likely to appeal this ruling, putting its future in the hands of an appellate court. That court may choose to uphold the initial ruling, or place a “stay” on it. A stay would mean that the Governor’s mandate gets to stay in place until the appellate court rules.

So while this restraining order does not apply to District 208 for now, it is still having massive repercussions across the state, which could in turn affect RB. School districts across Illinois have handled this ruling differently, causing widespread confusion. 

Community Consolidated School District 181, which covers parts of Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, and Burr Ridge decided to implement an emergency remote instruction day while awaiting further clarity on the ruling.

Other districts such as Arlington Heights (District 25), Burbank (District 111), and Crystal Lake Elementary (District 47) have all recommended masks be worn, but are not requiring them for students or teachers.

Still, some districts, such as District 128 based in Vernon Hills, are requiring all students not explicitly named in the lawsuit to follow the mask mandate.

There will certainly be more to unfold regarding this ruling and what it means for Illinois schools, but for the moment no precedent has been set. Each school district named in the suit is on its own.

This ruling comes amongst a falling trend in COVID cases across the US, and in Illinois. As of February 7, COVID cases in Illinois have declined by 67% to a daily average of 8,672 according to the New York Times COVID case tracker. While he is optimistic about rapidly declining COVID cases, District 208 Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skinkis stressed the importance of taking great care prior to making any decisions on the issue.

“I think it’s important that we continue to watch the positivity rates and the case numbers for our local zip codes, and if those things continue to go in the right direction I would imagine that we’ll be doing conference calls with some of the health departments,” Skinkis said.

Nonetheless, the current trend in COVID cases leaves Skinkis optimistic towards RB’s prospects of going mask-optional at some point before the 2021-22 school year ends. 

“I’m hopeful that the case numbers, positivity rates and advice from health departments allow us to roll back these mitigations so that students can eventually go [to school] without masks,” said District 208 Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skinkis.