Illinois Supreme Court denies Pritzker’s appeal of school mask mandate decisions; schools move to mask optional Monday


Gov. J.B. Pritzker | Photo courtesy of Illinois Policy

The Illinois Supreme Court denied Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s appeal over his school mask mandates on Friday, determining that the lower court decisions were moot, vacating the temporary restraining order by the circuit court and remanding the case to the circuit court for further consideration.

This decision likely brings to an end the litigation over mask mandates in Illinois schools, as well as the statewide mask mandate itself.

The governor did not mention the dismissal of his appeal, but said, “I’m gratified that the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s restraining order, meaning that if a school mask mandate needs to go into effect in the future, we continue to have that authority.”

The governor then said he will remove his statewide school mask mandate, effective Feb. 28, due to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Feb. 25 guidance. The CDC’s updated guidance removes the recommendation for universal masking – including in schools – in areas of low or medium COVID-19 risk, as measured by new metrics that center around hospitalization and hospital capacity.

While Illinois was one of only 11 states with a statewide mask mandate in K-12 schools as of Feb. 2, according to data gathered by The New York Times, that number will soon shrink further, as a flurry of Democratic governors have announced plans to lift their school mask mandates by the end of February or in March, including ConnecticutOregonDelaware and New Jersey.

Many of these announcements, like Illinois’, have come amid news reports about pollsshowing Americans have become increasingly concerned about the consequences of COVID-19 mitigation measures.

The proceedings leading to the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision

On Feb. 4, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order on the Pritzker administration’s mandates requiring masks in schools, weekly testing of unvaccinated school employees and the quarantining of students and teachers who are “close contacts” of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases. The court also declared the IDPH and ISBE rules “null and void.” The state appealed the order to the Fourth District Appellate Court.

On Feb. 15, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules of the Illinois General Assembly voted 9-0-2 against extending IDPH’s emergency rules to enforce state mask, vaccine and testing mandates, and on Feb. 17, the Fourth District Appellate Court ruled the legislative committee’s action made the appeal moot, as a rule at the heart of the case is no longer in effect. It did not decide whether Grischow’s order was proper in the first place.

The Illinois Supreme Court then determined it could not rule on the appeal, as the underlying case was moot. While the court vacated the TRO and remanded the case to the circuit court for further consideration, the expiration of the administrative rules setting forth the requirements on masks, testing and quarantines, as well as the governor’s lifting of the school mask mandate, will probably have rendered the case moot as far as any further decisions are concerned.

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