Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the state will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision making masks optional in school settings, noting the ruling failed "to address important legal issues."
The decision, published just before midnight Thursday, from the three-member panel of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court rejected Pritzker’s appeal of a lower court's ruling against a mask mandate in the classroom, leaving the choice up to school systems to implement COVID-19 protocols.
A spokesperson for Pritzker said Friday that the governor is "disappointed" in the appellate court's decision, and is working with the attorney general to request an expedited review from the Supreme Court.
"In the meantime, the Governor urges everyone to continue following the doctors’ advice to wear masks so students can remain safely learning in classrooms, and is encouraged that the court made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place," Illinois Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement.
Raoul said in a statement that the appellate court's ruling focused on the emergency rulemaking process used by the Illinois Department of Public Health, nothing that the rule does not impact executive orders from the governor.
In their decision, the appellate court justices wrote there is no “actual controversy” to decide and the governor's request is “moot” because his emergency COVID rules already expired.
“Because the emergency rules voided by the TRO are no longer in effect, a controversy regarding the application of those rules no longer exists. Thus, the matter is moot,” the justices wrote.
The justices also wrote, “We note the language of the TRO in no way restrains school districts from acting independently from the executive orders or the IDPH in creating provisions addressing COVID-19.”
The decision by the appeals court hinges on a bipartisan legislative committee’s vote earlier this week not to renew Pritzker’s emergency rules, which first took effect in September 2021.
On Tuesday, lawmakers who serve on the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules voted to temporarily suspended the school mask mandate, with three Democrats crossing over to vote to halt the measure.
On Feb. 4, a Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the state from enforcing the rules that called for mask mandates and other COVID restrictions in schools.
While the state appealed the judge’s temporary restraining order, the rules expired on Feb. 13.
At this point, it's unclear whether the IDPH is able to issue another mask-related mandate for COVID protocols in the classroom.
Illinois will lift the indoor mask requirement, with several exceptions, by Feb. 28 if state COVID metrics continue to decline, Pritzker announced last week. The governor noted, however, that the eased mandate would not apply to school settings.
"School outbreaks impact hundreds, even thousands of people across a community – and there are a whole lot more infections when districts are maskless," Pritzker said in a press conference last week.