Pritzker insists school masks still mandated despite judge and legislators blocking rule

(The Center Square) – Despite a district court judge and a top legislative committee blocking Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s school mask and exclusion mandate, the governor says students are still required to cover their faces because of COVID-19.

The mask rule was found null and void Feb. 4 by a Sangamon County Circuit Court judge. On paper, the rule expired Sunday. The governor reissued the rule Monday, saying it’s part of the ongoing appeal. The bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules blocked the rule Tuesday.

Pritzker insisted Wednesday masks are still mandated.

“Yeah, the executive order is in effect,” Pritzker said. “We still have a mask requirement in the state of Illinois for schools.”

JCAR member state Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, said from his perspective, the mandate is over and decisions are up to local districts and parents.

“There are three co-equal branches of government in this state and those mandates that he has implemented for the last two years I believe disrespected the other two branches of this state’s government,” DeWitte told WMAY Wednesday.

DeWitte says people feel their rights have been violated with the mask and exclusion mandate.

Pritzker brushed off concerns over due process rights for healthy individuals being told to follow quarantine measures like masking or exclusion.

“The judge’s decision … poorly decided, it leaves out entirely a section of the law that she obviously didn’t read or didn’t want to address, so I think that’s all going to be addressed by the appellate court,” Pritzker said of the state’s appeal of the district court’s ruling.

Attorney Thomas DeVore, who represents the more than 700 parents in the case, said with the latest vote from JCAR, most of the governor’s arguments are gone.

“The arguments you made to us and you made to the trial court are gone now because the legislature has knocked those rules out,” DeVore said. “Most of their arguments are gone now.”

He said while masks were a flashpoint, there’s also the issue of excluding from school so-called close contacts to those who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Excluding children from school on such flippant circumstances and sending them out the building and not being able to be educated has an impact that is going to last a generation for these kids,” DeVore said.

The governor should drop the issue, Devore said, move on and let children heal from what he said “they’ve had to suffer.”

It’s unclear when the appeals court will rule on the governor’s request. Both sides filed briefs Wednesday on how JCAR’s vote impacts the case.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who is representing the governor, said in Wednesday’s filing “JCAR’s action on February 15 does not substantially affect the pending appeals.”

“The [executive order’s] were temporarily enjoined as to certain students and teachers through the circuit court’s [temporary restraining order],” Raoul’s filing said. “Because JCAR’s action related only to the [Illinois Department of Public Health] renewed Emergency Rule, it does not affect the EOs.”

Raoul requests “that this court vacate, reverse, and dissolve the [circuit court’s temporary restraining order]” and “that the court vacate as moot the portion of the TRO declaring the IDPH Emergency Rule null and void.”

DeVore’s filing said the question before the appellate court is “what is left for it to decide given the actions by JCAR.”

“It is the position of the Plaintiffs that the only matter left to review is whether [the circuit court judge] abused her discretion when she found Plaintiffs have raised a likelihood of success in showing a fair question exists that the [Illinois Department of Public Health Act] applies in regard to matters of quarantine, vaccination or testing, and exclusion from school, and that neither the Governor under some inherent Constitutional authority, or under some delegated authority under the [Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act] can authorize quarantine, vaccination or testing, and exclusion from school and disregard the due process protections of Plaintiffs.”

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