Court upholds challenge to Pritzker mask rules

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Information signs are displayed at a retail store in Buffalo Grove, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced plans that Illinois’ mask mandate to be lifted Feb. 28 with exceptions for schools, hospitals, nursing homes. (AP Photo/Nam Y Huh)

AP

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker plans to ask the state Supreme Court to review a ruling that invalidated his orders for face masks in public schools and other COVID-19 protections, a spokeswoman said Friday.

The Democrat said he is worried about keeping kids healthy and in school, rather than learning remotely, after a 4th District Appellate Court ruling late Thursday.

The court did not offer an opinion on the legality of Pritzker’s emergency school-mask order. It called the question moot because a bipartisan legislative oversight committee blocked its re-implementation this week.

Pritzker is working with Illinois Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul on an “expedited review” by the high court, spokeswoman Jordan Abudeyyah said.

“In the meantime, the governor urges everyone to continue following the doctors’ advice to wear masks so students can remain safely learning in classrooms,” said Abudayyeh, adding that Pritzker “is encouraged that the court made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place.”

The legal drama over masks in public schools has unfolded even as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have plunged after the omicron variant’s peak last month. Last week, Pritzker announced he would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28 — but not for schools.

The appellate court weighed in about two weeks after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order invalidating the school mask mandate, as well as several other emergency orders, including vaccine requirements for school employees. Pritzker implemented the vaccine mandate at the beginning of the school year.

Grischow agreed with teachers and students who had sued, arguing that schools couldn’t be ordered to require masking without a public health quarantine order. She also said people can’t be excluded from school who have had contact with the virus without a hearing.

Before the appellate court could review Grischow’s opinion, the emergency rules expired. The Illinois Department of Public Health sought to extend them this week, but the bicameral, bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules declined. The unanimous vote indicated a spreading desire among lawmakers for more involvement in managing the pandemic.

With the vote of the legislative panel, the issue is moot, the appellate court said.

“The existence of an actual controversy is a prerequisite for appellate jurisdiction, and a reviewing court will generally not decide matters that are abstract, hypothetical, or moot,” the court wrote.

The state’s largest teachers’ union and school district were among those applauding the court’s decision that administrators could decide the mask issue locally.

Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, reaffirmed its commitment to universal masking, staff vaccinations and remote work or learning for those exposed to the coronavirus.

“These safety measures are what have allowed us to provide our students with the in-person learning environment they need throughout this school year,” Chicago Public Schools said in a statement. “We will continue to follow these protocols until such time as our public health partners advise us that restrictions can be safely lifted.”

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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