ALAH, Bement, Cerro Gordo and Mt. Zion Superintendents’ statements included
A central Illinois judge dealt a major blow to Governor Pritzker’s school mask mandate and issued a temporary restraining order last Friday that prevents school districts statewide from requiring students to wear masks in classrooms.
In the ruling issued in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and teachers, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow said Governor J.B. Pritzker overstepped his legal authority with a mask mandate that has angered many parents and teachers alike.
As of Monday, the court’s temporary restraining order means schools would no longer have to enforce a mask mandate for students, or a vaccine or testing mandate for staff.
Governor Pritzker has asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office for an immediate appeal from the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court of Judge Grischow’s decision to restrain the State from enforcing the safety measures aimed at protecting teachers, school personnel, students and communities from COVID-19.
Judge Grischow also determined that several more of Pritzker’s emergency orders to combat the spread of COVID-19, including one issued last year that mandates vaccinations for school employees, are “null and void.”
“This court acknowledges the tragic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, not only on this state but throughout the nation and globe,” Grischow wrote in a ruling that affects 146 Illinois school districts, including the public school system in Chicago. “Nonetheless, it is the duty of the Courts to preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the boundaries of the authority granted under the Constitution.”
Pritzker had harsh words for the judge’s decision, suggesting the ruling could spark another surge in the virus and force schools to close their doors and revert to online classes.
“The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities — and this may force schools to go remote,” Pritzker said in a statement. “This shows yet again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools to keep schools open and everyone safe.”
“I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said, adding that he was consulting with doctors and scientists about the need for continued COVID-19 mitigation measures.
In her ruling, Grischow agreed with the parents and teachers who argued that only local health departments, and not the governor or school districts, have the authority to require such measures. The judge also agreed with parents who argued that the state cannot require districts to force staffers to get vaccinated or test weekly “without first providing them due process of law.”
Area Superintendent’s issued the following statements on Sunday, February 6:
ALAH: Mask & Staff Testing Update. As you may be aware, there is a lawsuit pending in Sangamon County involving numerous plaintiffs suing many districts across the state. The lawsuit challenges various aspects of the State’s Covid-19 requirements for schools, including mask requirements and the exclusion of close contacts. Our District is not a party to this lawsuit.
Arguments on a temporary restraining order (TRO) concluded in both cases and the judge released her decision at 5 pm on Friday, February 4, 2022. While the TRO does not apply to our District, the District is going to exercise its inherent local authority because the state is temporarily enjoined from enforcing the executive orders.
This is a temporary restraining order, which is by its very definition “temporary”, and is not a final disposition of the issues. A TRO temporarily enjoins the actions of the parties, but it is not a permanent injunction and is not necessarily a reflection of the final merits of the case.
Please take note to recognize that this is a temporary status at this stage in litigation.
An appeal was expected by either side after the decision was released. Reportedly, the Attorney General is appealing this decision at the appellate court level on Monday. A decision by the appellate court will be made within ten days or less after the judge’s decision. A stay could be granted which would extend the Governor’s Mandates until a decision by the appellate court. The appellate court could uphold or reverse this court’s decision.
The District has been and remains committed to being open for in-person learning after the initial outbreak and we have remained open for in-person learning throughout the pandemic to better serve our students and families.
Consistent with the Return to School Plan originally adopted by the Board of Education prior to the executive orders, beginning tomorrow, the use of universal masking is highly recommended for all staff and students but is not required within the building.
The last couple of years have been rough, to say the least. The District is proud that we have been able to navigate through the peaks of the spread of COVID-19 and keep our schools open and in-person. We are proud of all of our employees who have sacrificed extra time and effort for our students during this global pandemic.
Thank you for all that you are doing to help us help your students!
Mr. Shannon Cheek
Arthur CUSD #305
Bement: Bement will be continuing with our current plan. We will be keeping an eye on this case as it moves forward to the Appellate Court level.
Dr. Sheila Greenwood
Bement CUSD #5
Cerro Gordo: On Friday, February 4, 2022, the Sangamon County Circuit Court granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) affecting certain school districts and specific individuals in those districts. The TRO temporarily suspended enforcement of mask mandates for students and exclusion for asymptomatic close contacts. Due to a separate ruling limiting the scope of the litigation, the TRO applies only to the parties of the lawsuit. Our District was not a party to that case, and therefore the TRO does not apply to our District.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our District has been committed to maintaining a safe and healthy learning environment for our students and staff. In furtherance of that commitment and because we are not a party to the pending litigation, the District is maintaining its COVID-19 mitigation measures and protocols. Therefore, there will be no changes in the District’s requirements next week. We will continue to require masking for everyone while indoors at school and while on school transportation, and follow our current practice for exclusion of individuals who are close contacts.
We appreciate your patience and cooperation as we continue to prioritize student and staff health and safety while providing in-person learning.
Cerro Gordo CUSD #3
Mt. Zion: Court Case Decision. We have received the judge’s decision in the lawsuit against Illinois, IDPH, ISBE, and well over 100 school districts, including Mt. Zion CUSD #3. Details surrounding this case could change in the days and weeks ahead. Therefore, during these difficult times, we ask that everyone be respectful of the choices of others, and feel comfortable with your choices moving forward. I have attached the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and included page numbers throughout for your reference. Judge Grischow wrote in the order: under the guise of an emergency, the emergency rules required schools to mask, test, and isolate without legislative authority (p. 6). The state argued the governor has unlimited authority to do whatever is necessary, but the court found that far-reaching (p. 9).
We will follow the highlighted language below at least until the appellate court issues a decision by February 17.
•Masks will revert back to our district’s original plan before the executive order. Masks are recommended in school, but no students will be suspended, or disciplined by the Mt. Zion School District.
•Masks are still currently required by everyone on the school bus under a federal requirement.
•No employee or persons in the school building will receive any consequences related to masking.
•Quarantines will be recommended for close contacts, but no close contacts will be suspended, or disciplined in any way for not isolating.
•Positive cases will still be expected to stay home for five days, or until symptoms improve.
Judge Grischow wrote that statutory rights have attempted to be bypassed through the issuance of Executive Orders and Emergency Rules. She even goes so far as to call delegating implementation authority to school districts without Legislature “an abuse of power” (p. 13). In the order, the judge notes on several occasions the governor had several other legal options to provide safety through a legal process but failed to utilize those methods.
“It is clear IDPH/ISBE attempted to force local school districts to comply with the guidance… This type of evil is exactly what the law was intended to constrain” (p. 16). Under no circumstances can guidance be issued which violates a statute (p. 16).
The joint guidance issued by ISBE and IDPH made clear that the local health departments had final determinations in these matters (p. 25). Unfortunately, our county health department incorrectly told our school district and our parents they had no appeal rights. We repeatedly informed the county health department this was not correct, but too little changed. The judge repeatedly confirms in the TRO the plaintiffs have due process rights. Yet, “the Governor, IDPH, and ISBE all attempted to remove the judiciary from oversight in matters related to all forms of ‘quarantine’ through the issuance of the Executive Orders”…(p. 25).
“…this court has declared IDPH and ISBE’s Emergency Rules void.” (p. 28). “The court finds the policies of each school district will have to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, be subject to school district’s policies that were presented to the school board…” (p. 17). Any “non-named plaintiffs and school districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly” (p. 28).
A decision on the governor’s appeal is expected by February 17. Any and all of these guidelines can change after the appellate court decision, just as they did after this court decision. I will provide additional communication about the judges ruling at that time.
Thank you for your cooperation and patience as we work through these changes. Our administrators, faculty, and staff have been working hard for our students throughout the last two years, and the next few weeks will be no different.
Optional COVID Testing
You can order a self-administered COVID test to have at home for free through this link. If you receive a message saying they are not available in your zip code, click the next link to receive the free test kits.
Are you interested in free weekly volunteer student testing at the school? If so, email me at email@example.com. We are NOT testing everyone or those who don’t want to be tested. However, we are conducting a cheek swab COVID test at the nurse’s office on Tuesdays with those families who want their child to test weekly.
Total Positive MTZ Cases by Month
So far in February…7
If a close contact was positive within 90 days- no isolation is required.
If a close contact student, age 5-17, is vaccinated (with or without booster)- No isolation.
Close contact adults and students age 18 and over are vaccinated with, or not eligible for, booster- No isolation.
Close contact adults and students who are unvaccinated- Isolation is recommended for at least five days.
Close contact adults and students age 18 and over who are vaccinated without booster- Isolation is recommended for at least five days.
Positive adults and students age five and over- Isolate for at least five days.
Day zero is the date symptoms started (if no symptoms, the test date is used) or the date of the last contact with the positive case + five full days, released on day six.
Close contacts can test on days 1, 3, and 5 in school if they choose.
Thank you for supporting our faculty and staff. It’s been a challenging year, but we are moving forward together.
Dr. Travis Roundcount
Mt. Zion CUSD #3