Emails released in FOIA show hundreds of parents thanked Pritzker for issuing school mask mandate

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — A House Republican who sought “data, studies, scientific or medical articles, and correspondence” from people advocating in support of school mask mandates got her answer in dramatic fashion on Tuesday.

Governor Pritzker’s office responded to an August 10th Freedom of Information Act Request filed by Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) by sending a staffer to her legislative office in Springfield to hand-deliver 870 pages of studies and letters from parents that supported the mask mandate.

Government agencies typically respond to FOIA requests in emails and attachments, but in delivering the papers in such a public manner, the Pritzker administration sought to draw attention to the number of parents who have thanked him for enacting and enforcing mask mandates at the start of the new school year.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this,” an Elmhurst mother emailed to Pritzker’s office on August 4th. “When the Elmhurst 205 School District voted to make masks optional last week, I was devastated and shocked.

McCombie was not in her office when the Governor’s staffer delivered the studies and emails. She responded to Pritzker’s public response to her requests when she came out of a Republican caucus meeting.

“I think it’s absolutely, positively ridiculous that it has become political,” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous that he’s going to showboat and have his staff showboat around empty offices when we’re all in caucus. I mean, have the guts to do it when we’re sitting at our desk.”

McCombie explained why she filed the open records requests from the Governor’s office.

“If he’s going to be mandating vaccines and masks, especially on our children,” she said, “then I wanted to know, ‘What was the decision making process? What’s the data? What’s his statistics? Show me the science that you keep talking about.’ So we requested it.”

She acknowledged the Delta variant is “more contagious,” and is infecting more children at a faster rate than in the earlier days of the pandemic, but questioned whether cloth masks would prove effective at stopping viral spread. Experts have acknowledged that cloth masks provide less protection than N-95 or KN-95 masks.

McCombie also took issue with the Governor’s continued use of executive power without more legislative oversight.

“A lot of people in Illinois, including in Democratic districts, feel that they don’t have a voice because the governor is unilaterally making decisions without the input of us in the House or the Senate, or even on our local school boards, or our local public officials,” she said.

However, some of the parents who wrote Pritzker letters expressed concerns that local school boards were caving to the demands of a loud, vocal minority instead of reinforcing the recommendations of medical experts and scientists.

“The loudmouths on the other side of the debate, jeering at the opposition and screaming their heads off at all the suburban school board meetings, would also be the first ones to scream and moan when they are forced back into virtual instruction because of another pandemic surge,” the mother from Elmhurst wrote. “We all agree that in-person instruction is the goal, but it’s still hard for me to believe these ignorant people don’t understand that a mask mandate, layered with other safety measures, is the only surefire way to get us there. Now I don’t have to contemplate expensive private school enrollment in order to keep my daughter safe.”

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