School association does not expect ISBE to enforce mask mandate ‘at this stage’ |

(The Center Square) — An association representing large school districts in Illinois expects the issue of mask mandates to eventually die down, despite the attorney general’s appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, a circuit court judge ruled Pritzker’s mask and exclusion policies for students and vaccine or testing mandates on staff are null and void. Thursday, an appeal court fired Governor’s call. The Attorney General is attractive to the Illinois Supreme Court, saying the governor’s warrants are still in effect.

“The failure of the Court of Appeals to address the significant legal issues in question has added to the confusion resulting from the circuit court’s decision giving priority to a relatively small group of plaintiffs who refuse to acknowledge the science or necessity public health measures to protect vulnerable Illinois residents,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said.

The Large Unit District Association’s executive director, John Burkey, told The Center Square that “things continue to be turned upside down, in terms of the guidance that actual districts are receiving.

“What I think, it’s pretty clear that we’re moving towards a point where masking will no longer be mandatory statewide in schools and I think with the appeals court rulings…we’re only ‘one step, maybe a big step closer to that,” Burkey said.

While some of its member districts are still requiring masks due to COVID-19 transmission rates in their areas, Burkey said many of its districts are recommended for mask-wearing.

“But I think our districts view this much more as a local issue than they did a few weeks ago. [after the circuit court decision],” he said.

The Illinois State Board of Education will not say whether it will continue to seek non-recognition status for the growing number of schools that optionally mask in defiance of Pritkzer’s insistence on that his orders are always valid.

Since the governor’s orders in August, the ISBE has sued punitive schools, both public and private, for failing to enforce mask mandates, or writing optional or recommended mask policies. The agency was pushed back by the courts and by the Joint Administrative Rules Committee resulting in procedural changes.

In the most recent updated list released Jan. 7, the ISBE has about seven private schools listed as recommended for nonrecognition status, including two on probation. Four public schools are listed as on probation.

A request for comment from the ISBE on whether the agency will pursue non-recognition of a growing number of mask-optional schools, or the number of such districts, was not returned. A statement was provided instead.

“We are disappointed with the appeals court’s decision and concerned about the health of those in school – particularly vulnerable children and adults,” said state education superintendent Carmen Ayala. “We hope to do everything we can together to preserve the ability to continue in-person learning.”

“The court made it clear that school districts can continue to maintain their own mitigations,” Ayala said. “School district leaders should continue to consult with your own legal counsel as to the specific impact of the decision on your school district.”

As for the districts’ concerns about being punished by the ISBE, Burkey said the districts believe that may soon dissipate.

“I don’t think they expect the ISBE to pursue this at this point,” Burkey said.

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