At least one Chicago-area school switched to remote learning Friday after hearing of possible protests planned by students and parents over a mask requirement in the classroom.
Hampshire High School in district 300, switched to e-learning to "avoid any disruptions" from protests urging schools to adopt a "mask optional" policy after a judge in downstate Illinois issued an order preventing enforcement of the statewide face covering requirement in the classroom.
At Libertyville High School, parent Kim Bissing said her daughter showed up to school Monday without a face mask and was sent to the gymnasium.
The district said student refusing to wear a mask met with principals and were given the choice to put on a face covering and go to class, leave school and have a parent report them absent, or stay in the gym or designated learning area.
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The governor instructed Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to file a notice of appeal Monday challenging the temporary restraining order issued by the downstate Sangamon County judge.
Pritzker called the ruling by Judge Raylene Grischow "out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis," saying it "cultivates chaos for parents, families, teachers and school administrators."
In the ruling issued in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents and teachers in more than 140 school districts, Grischow also determined several more of Pritzker’s emergency orders to combat the spread of COVID, including one issued last year that mandates vaccinations for school employees, are “null and void.”
Pritzker said he directed Raoul to seek to have the ruling overturned "with all possible speed." Raoul filed a notice indicating the defendants - the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Department of Public Health and their leaders, as well as Pritzker - intend to appeal, but the process could take weeks or months.
On Wednesday, Pritzker revealed plans to lift Illinois' indoor mask mandate, with the exception of in schools, by Feb. 28, noting that the state is "seeing the fastest rate of decline in our COVID-19 hospitalization metrics since the pandemic began."
He noted, however, one important caveat.
"I want to be clear: Many local jurisdictions, businesses and organizations have their own mask requirements and other mitigations that must be respected," he said. "Having stricter mitigations than the state requirements is something that must be adhered to. Doing what’s right in your private business or for your local communities is encouraged. Whether you’re a business, a township, a venue, a place of worship or a city – to name just a few examples – protecting your patrons and visitors is no doubt a high priority. Masks continue to be a very effective way to keep your establishment from experiencing an outbreak or spreading the disease."
The lifting of the mandate will not apply to schools, Pritzker said.
"School outbreaks impact hundreds, even thousands of people across a community – and there are a whole lot more infections when districts are maskless. Schools are unlike most other environments — there are far lower vaccination rates for school-aged children than adults, higher exposure daily to younger children who aren’t yet vaccine-eligible, and more difficulty maintaining distance in hallways and gyms. The equation for schools just looks different right now than it does for the general population. Schools need more time – for community infection rates to drop, for our youngest learners to become vaccine eligible, and for more parents to get their kids vaccinated."
The governor said plans for school masking requirements are expected to be announced "in the coming weeks."
"It’s my hope and expectation that we will continue making progress to a place where we can remove school masking requirements and keep kids in school," he said.
According to the governor's office, Illinois will continue to require masks in the following settings:
- Healthcare Settings: Continue mask requirement
- Long Term Care Facilities: Continue mask requirement
- Congregate Settings (prisons, shelters, etc.): Continue mask requirement
- Transportation: Follow federal guidelines
- Daycare: Follow Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) guidelines
Both the governor and the state's top doctor stressed boosters as a way to increase protection from the virus and reduce risk.