Thanks to a vote from the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, the school mask mandate has effectively been suspended in Illinois — for now.
On February 15th, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) voted against extending the Illinois Department of Public Health’s emergency rule on school mask mandates.
The Illinois Department of Public Health’s attempt to reissue the emergency rule would require school districts to enforce Governor JB Pritzker’s school mask mandate in violation of a recent court ruling on the issue.
According to reporting by local news outlet ABC20, “Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow said in her ruling that students at more than 170 school districts in Illinois, which were named in the lawsuit, won’t have to wear a mask if they don’t want to unless they are given due process.”
Judge Grischow wrote in her ruling: “The Illinois General Assembly had foresight when it created certain provisions limiting the authority of administrative agencies. When the Legislature created our laws, they did so knowing individuals have a fundamental right to due process when one’s liberty and freedom is taken away by forcing them to do something not otherwise required of all other citizens.”
The vote against the emergency school mask mandate rule was 9 to 0, with 2 members voting present. Essentially, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules blocked the re-implementation of Governor Pritzker’s mask mandate for K-12 public and private schools in Illinois.
This means something very important for school districts: for the first time in a very long time, they actually have the right to choose.
“The state is no longer empowered to mandate that they require masking,” said Republican state Senator John Curran, a JCAR member.
“JCAR today decided that this reissuance of this rule was an overreach on the end of the Governor,” said another Republican JCAR member, state Senator Don DeWitte. “Every school district in the state now has the ability to make that decision: to maintain the mandates or go to mask optional.”
Governor Pritzker’s office released a statement regarding the vote, which read:
“The administration understands that members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules are awaiting a ruling from the appellate court on this issue. As doctors have said time and again, masks are the best way to preserve in-person learning and keep children and staff safe. We look forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly, school districts, parents, communities and all stakeholders to use the tools we have to keep in-person learning. In the meantime, the administration urges all schools and parents to encourage mask-wearing to keep everyone in their schools and communities safe.”
Senate GOP Deputy Leader Sue Rezin also released a statement about the vote, which read:
“Today, the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules made it clear that we would not accept the Governor’s attempts to go above a court ruling made by a co-equal branch of government. Instead of allowing our judicial system to work through its process, the Governor tried to double down on his unilateral approach to COVID-19 mitigations. This move was both bad government and dangerous to the rule of law as it ignored the court’s ruling on due process. In his quest for power and control, Pritzker and his Administration was willing to further the chaos and confusion for schools throughout the state. With this bipartisan vote, I hope the Governor finally recognizes that his go-it-alone tactic is not in the best interest of our state or its people.”