By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
Schools in Illinois are free to enforce mask mandates and other COVID-19 mitigations on their own, but the emergency rules that the Illinois Department of Public Health issued requiring schools to enforce those mandates are no longer in force.
That was the decision issued late Thursday night by the 4th District Court of Appeals in Springfield.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul had appealed a temporary restraining order that a Sangamon County judge issued Feb. 4, blocking the state from enforcing emergency rules requiring face masks, tests of unvaccinated individuals and brief exclusion from school buildings and activities of students or teachers who had been in close contact with someone who had a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.
Those emergency rules were issued Sept. 17 in direct response to a series of Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive orders. Those emergency rules expired on Sunday, Feb. 13, but IDPH reissued those rules the following day.
On Tuesday, Feb. 14, however, the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to object and suspend the rules from going into effect, noting that there was a restraining order in place and an appeal pending before the 4th District.
But in a decision released around 11:50 p.m. Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 4thDistrict said that because JCAR had blocked the renewal of the emergency rules, the appeal of the temporary restraining order was moot because there were no rules in place to be enforced.
“We note the language of the TRO in no way restrains school districts from acting independently from the executive orders or the IDPH in creating provisions addressing COVID-19,” Justice John W. Turner wrote for the court. “Thus, it does not appear the school districts are temporarily restrained from acting by the court’s TRO.”
Justice Thomas M. Harris concurred in the opinion. Justice Lisa Holder White concurred in part, but said the issues concerning Pritzker’s executive orders were not moot and the court should have ruled on them.
“As it stands, the majority’s decision leaves open the question of whether the circuit court properly enjoined the enforcement of the executive orders,” Holder White wrote.
The appellate court’s decision comes the Pritzker administration is preparing to roll back the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28. Pritzker announced that plan on Feb. 9but said he intended to keep the mandate in place for schools.
Meanwhile, the issue of mask mandates has become more contentious in the General Assembly where, on Thursday, House Democrats voted to remove nine Republican lawmakers from the chamber for refusing to abide by the House’s own masking rule.
This is a developing story and will be updated later in the day.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.