District officials and teacher union leaders on Saturday affirmed that masking requirements will remain in place in Chicago Public Schools classrooms despite a downstate judge’s ruling halting mask mandates.
CPS leaders asserted that the temporary restraining order issued Friday night by Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow “does not prohibit CPS from exercising its authority to continue its COVID-19 mitigation policies and procedures,” including the masking edict and vaccination and testing requirements for staffers.
“We are confident that masking and vaccination have been key parts of keeping the virus transmission low in our classrooms this school year and successfully allowed our faculty and students to safely teach and learn in person,” CPS officials said in a statement. “Our caseload is declining and the number of vaccinated students and staff continues to increase. We will stay the course.”
Grischow’s order noted that individual collective bargaining agreements between districts and employees remain in effect — meaning the January agreement between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union requiring masking is still enforceable, according to the CTU.
“CTU members made real sacrifices in January to bargain for an enforceable safety agreement with Mayor Lightfoot’s CPS team, and today that agreement guarantees masking and other critical protections that will allow us to protect our school communities,” union leaders said in a statement.
But some schools in the suburbs quickly announced plans to go maskless. After the order was released, Timothy Christian Schools in Elmhurst decided masks would be optional beginning Monday.
Supt. Matt Davidson said he was clear from the start of the school year that his goal was to create a mask-optional setting. While many students have adjusted to the mask requirement, Davidson said some children, particularly younger ones, were suffering and that many parents were relieved by the news.
“We have to move the narrative away from ‘this can’t be done.’ It can be done,” Davidson said.
In addition to the restraining order on masking requirements, the ruling also deemed several other COVID-19 mitigation efforts put in place by Gov. J.B. Pritzker “null and void” — including an emergency order issued in September mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for school personnel.
Grischow’s controversial order — issued in response to a lawsuit by a group of parents and teachers in the county that includes Springfield — was immediately slammed by Pritzker’s office as “misguided.”
“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.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office has already filed an emergency stay aiming to pause the temporary restraining order.
“We remain committed to defending Gov. Pritzker’s actions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will appeal this decision in the Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District in Springfield,” Raoul wrote in a statement Friday. “This decision sends the message that all students do not have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health concerns.”
In a video posted to Facebook, attorney Thomas DeVore, who has represented families fighting against mask mandates, told viewers that any school district which continues to enforce a masking mandate Monday would be acting unlawfully.
“There could be significant liability for school districts to continue to implement and enforce requirements that this court has said violates due process of law,” DeVore said in the video.
DeVore did not immediately respond to requests for further comment Saturday.
Public health experts have long urged residents to wear masks around others during the pandemic, as a means for mask-wearers to keep their microbes to themselves and slow viral spread.
Illinois recorded its highest COVID case numbers of the pandemic in December and January, but infections have dropped dramatically over the past week as the Omicron surge subsides.
According to CPS, about 53% of students 12 or older are fully vaccinated, and about 33% of kids 5 to 11 have gotten a shot. More than 91% of staffers have completed at least their initial vaccine series.