Parents, students, and schools in Illinois await ruling on mask mandate challenge

Illinois under Gov. J.B. Pritzker is one of 13 states that still require masks on school children.

Updated: January 22, 2022 - 10:38pm

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Parents, students and schools across the state are waiting for a ruling from a circuit court judge on a petition to block masks from being required on children in some Illinois schools.

Illinois is one of 13 states that still require masks on school children. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has had the mandate in place since August.

A case heard in Sangamon County Circuit Court Thursday has more than 700 parents suing 145 school districts, the governor and state education officials over the mandates that include excluding students from in-person learning for possibly being exposed to COVID-19.

Pritzker Thursday criticized the parents’ case, saying they are fighting against "freedom from" COVID-19.

"That's what we're looking to do, to give people their freedom from the virus," Pritzker said. "These people are holding us back and they're going to close schools as a result if they were to win."

Some schools have said their operations could be hindered without the mandate. Other schools have had masks optional all school year with minimal disruptions. Schools that don't mandate masks face nonrecognition status from the Illinois State Board of Education, something that could mean loss of state funds and participation with recognized schools in extracurricular activities.

Attorney Thomas DeVore, who represents the parents, argued in court the issue is about individual due process rights laid out in state law.

"These children have rights when it comes to these masks, which are a device intended to limit the spread, when it comes to exclusion from school," DeVore said. "They all have rights and their rights need to be protected and we're asking you to protect their rights."

DeVore argues if public health officials want to quarantine, vaccinate or mask someone out of health concerns, and the person is not willing, they must prove in court the person is a health risk. That largely is not happening with the mask and exclusion mandates.

Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow said not to expect a ruling before Friday, Jan. 28.

Attorney Kathleen Gibbons represents one of the districts and said the potential harm of possibly spreading COVID-19 by not requiring everyone to wear a mask is too great.

"These decisions do not affect just these individual students and their parents, they affect all the rest of the children in Valley View, all the teachers, all the staff and all the parents and other family members in those homes," Gibbons said.

But parents' attorney Will Gerber said you can't take a student’s rights away based on hypotheticals.

"[The mandate] is allowing schools to take healthy children out of school, remove them from public education, without the right to be heard," Gerber said.

Separate petitions found at Change.org have thousands of signatures for and against mask mandates in Illinois schools.