Are school masks finally gone for good?

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Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

An Illinois appellate court late Thursday night dismissed an appeal made by the Pritzker Administration, thereby leaving in place the February 4 lower court order that effectively ended Illinois’ statewide school mask mandate as of that date.

The new order issued by Illinois’ Fourth District Appellate Court ruled the appeal moot, meaning the particular controversy at issue no longer exists. The court noted that the emergency rules issued by state agencies that were needed to effectuate the mask mandate expired on February 13, 2022. “None of the rules found by the circuit court to be null and void are currently in effect,” said the court.

“Further,” the court wrote, “given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic—which affects the State defendants’ response to the pandemic—and JCAR’s decision on February 15, 2022, it is not clear these same rules would likely be reinstated.” (The JCAR decision is described here.)

The new order means the masking decision is left up to the schools themselves, as it has been since February 4. Over 500 of the state’s 852 school districts have already dropped students masking requirements.

It will be interesting to see if Gov. JB Pritzker persists with the claim he made Wednesday that his statewide school mandate remained the law despite the lower court’s ruling to the contrary. We criticized that claim harshly here on Thursday. As we pointed out, the lower court’s February 4 ruling against the mandate is law, and remains such unless and until it is overturned on appeal. Now, that appeal has been dismissed, so the February 4 ruling stays in place.

Conceivably, the Pritzker Administration could also appeal the new appellate decision to the Illinois Supreme Court or try to fix the defects that voided the mandate through legislative and administrative action. Neither option, however, seems feasible or necessary given the rapid pace at which COVID is receding, growing sentiment against school mask mandates and, as the appellate court noted, doubts about reinstating the key agency rules.

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