By GREG BISHOP, The Center Square
Students attending one of the 145 schools across Illinois who are part of a sweeping lawsuit won’t have to wear a mask if they don’t want to, unless they’re given due process. Same goes for certain school staff who don’t want to take weekly COVID-19 tests for not being vaccinated. They must also have due process.
In a 30-page ruling late Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow “deemed null and void” the governor’s emergency rules through the Illinois Department of Public Health concerning COVID-19 mitigations for schools.
“The arbitrary method as to contact tracing and masking in general continue to raise fair questions as to the legality of the Executive Orders in light of violations of healthy children’s substantive due process rights,” Grischow wrote. “Statutory rights have attempted to be bypassed through the issuance of Executive Orders and Emergency Rules … This type of evil is exactly what the law was intended to constrain.”
Schools impacted by litigation brought by more than 700 parents and dozens of school staff are temporarily restrained from enforcing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. After the ruling, Pritzker said the state will appeal.
Pritzker’s mandates for masks and exclusion policies in schools and vaccines or testing for teachers have been in place since last fall.
Despite COVID-19 metrics “going in the right direction,” Pritzker on Friday still wouldn’t say when he’ll lift the mask mandates.
“I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can,” Pritzker said before Grischow’s ruling. “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.”
The Illinois Attorney General’s office didn’t immediately respond to the order when asked for comment. The office is defending Pritzker’s administration against the lawsuit.
The Pritzker administration and school district defendants are temporarily restrained from enforcing the executive orders, the judge said. School districts are restrained from requiring masks if a person objects, “except during the terms of lawful order of quarantine issued from their respective health department, in accordance with the IDPH Act.”
Attorney Thomas DeVore argued on behalf of parents and their students and school staff that in order for an individual to be required to comply with a public health measure like masking, vaccines or testing, or to be excluded from school, they must be given due process by law.
“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.
Districts are also restrained from requiring staff who are unvaccinated from submitting to weekly COVID-19 tests “in order to occupy the school building without first providing them due process.”
Grischow’s order also restricts schools from refusing admittance to their buildings for teachers and students if they are deemed a “close contact” of a confirmed probable COVID-19 case “without providing due process.”
Earlier in the day Friday, Grischow denied motions in the separate cases for there to be class status. That means, the temporary restraining order only impacts the plaintiffs and the school districts part of the lawsuit.