QPS and other local districts to comply with court order; masks no longer required

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Quincy Public Schools Superintendent Roy Webb released a statement Saturday evening saying District 172 would no longer enforce masking requirements for students and staff and would cease testing of unvaccinated staff.

This comes on the heels of Friday’s ruling by a Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow that “deemed null and void” Governor J.B. Pritzker’s emergency rules through the Illinois Department of Public Health concerning COVID-19 mitigations for 145 schools involved in the lawsuit.

“Quincy Public Schools was named as a defendant in this hearing along with many other school districts, the Governor, The Illinois Department of Health, and the Illinois State Board of Education. Quincy Public Schools will follow the TRO and the intent of the TRO,” Webb said in the statement, which was also posted on social media. “Masks will be recommended on Monday, for any student or staff, but are not required, and we will not be excluding students for not wearing a mask. We will continue to work with Adams County Health Department on COVID close contacts. We had a previous court ruling in Adams County and have since followed those procedures which meet the order of both court rulings. We will cease any weekly testing of unvaccinated employees.”

While Grischow’s ruling did declare the plaintiffs did not reach the criteria for a class action suit, Webb said QPS wanted the ruling to impact all students and families equally and the district would treat all students the same regarding the TRO and those who refuse to wear a mask would not be excluded from school. 

“We have done all we can to keep children safe, especially our most vulnerable,” Webb wrote. “Our prayers are that the vaccine will do that now for our students still at risk. We live in the western part of the state. I cannot debate medicine, but I can debate children. For masks to be effective, they must be a proper mask, a proper fit, and consistent use. Our students have done an amazing job in school. They have been content and compliant. Yet their masks are sometimes not of the proper type, they often slip below the nose or below the chin, and to be honest, many of our students only wear their mask in school.”

Webb said the ruling makes enforcement “more difficult, if not impossible” and would not be feasible without support from Adams County government, which has already refused to get involved in the controversial issue.

“We do all this at some risk,” Webb wrote. “I understand the plaintiffs’ actions. They disagreed with our position and actions and took us to court. They did not belittle us, they simply asked for a judge to rule. That is a proper and legal course.”

QPS will support Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s efforts to appeal the ruling.

“We feel we have the legal grounds, with this court ruling to support these actions,” Webb wrote. “We expect to hear from many of you, upset with this decision. I encourage you to reach out to me and the Board of Education. This statement is vetted and supported by them.

“Now, let’s get on with the education of our children.”

Erica Smith, superintendent at Community Unit School District No. 3 (Camp Point Central), also said their school would comply with the order.

“Should the stay be denied at the circuit court level, it is anticipated the Governor, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education will seek a stay at the appellate court level,” Smith wrote on a Facebook post. “It is also anticipated that an appeal to reverse the TRO will be made. It could be a week or two before that process runs its course and a decision is handed down. As a result, there could be quite a bit of back and forth over the next few weeks. While the Central School District’s Back to School Plan will not change and no board action will take place at this time, the school district will follow the court’s TRO until appeals are filed and a decision is handed down…

“Until then, Central will not exclude students or staff for choosing not to wear a mask or for choosing to attend school when they have been a close contact of a person who tested positive for COVID but have no symptoms themselves. We will still follow our normal illness policy of requiring students and staff to stay home for 24 hours after experiencing a fever of 100 or higher, vomiting, or diarrhea, which has been the district’s policy for years. Unvaccinated staff members will not be required to test weekly for COVID. Any student or staff member experiencing COVID symptoms can still request a test be administered at school.”

Superintendent Ron Edwards of Pleasant Hill schools said his schools would also comply, but added Friday’s action is likely not the final word.

“It is the intention of Pleasant Hill CUSD #3 to comply with the TRO until otherwise directed by the trial court or the appellate court,” Edwards wrote on the district’s Website. “While the district encourages the use of masks and COVID-19 testing (which the district will continue to make available), it will not exclude students or staff who choose either not to wear a mask or to be tested.  

Please understand, however, whether the TRO remains in place or not, the legal issues raised in the underlying litigation remain to be resolved at trial. While Judge Grischow entered a TRO, she has not yet conducted an evidentiary hearing or made a final decision on whether the State Defendants and/or the school district defendants have the authority to impose such restrictions. In short, the TRO entered on February 4th is not the final word on the issue.”

Illini West District 307 Superintendent Jay Harnack wrote three points on his blog:

  1. Use of masks for students and teachers is not required except during the terms of a lawful order of quarantine issued from Hancock County Health Department, in accordance with the IDPH Act.
  2. Weekly negative test results for staff in order to occupy the school building are not required.
  3. Exclusion of school district personnel or students for specified periods of time if the teacher or student is deemed a “close contact” of a confirmed probable COVID-19 case will not occur without due process to that individual unless the local health department has deemed the individual a close contact after following the procedures outlined in 20 ILCS 2305 and 77 Ill. Adm. Code 690.1330.

The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois posted a “Masking in Schools Update” Sunday afternoon on its Facebook page. Quincy has five schools — Quincy Notre Dame High School and four K-8 schools (St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Peter and Blessed Sacrament) — under the umbrella of the diocese.

“In light of a Sangamon County Court’s ruling Friday, we will examine the Court’s order and its impact on our schools, understanding that this matter is in active litigation and that the Appellate Court could intervene. Our initial guidance is that our schools should adapt so that COVID protocols are now guidance, not mandates: a) allow parents the option of having their child wear a mask; b) allow teachers and employees the option of wearing a mask, regardless of vaccination status; and c) allow optional Covid-19 weekly testing for unvaccinated employees.

“Our pastors and principals, however, are given the discretion to decide other safety precautions and mitigating strategies. We ask our families and school communities to be patient as we all respond to this change and to be prepared for further changes if this order is appealed.”

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