SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — In his first public appearance since a bipartisan panel of lawmakers voted to suspend the statewide mask mandate in schools, Governor J.B. Pritzker again urged school districts not named in a pending lawsuit to continue enforcing the mask requirement, citing his emergency powers.
“The executive order requiring masks is still in place,” Pritzker insisted at a Wednesday morning press conference. “School districts that aren’t part of the lawsuit should follow the executive order.”
Pritzker has criticized the legal reasoning of Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow who struck down Pritzker’s mask powers over local school districts without granting students individual “due process” rights.
Since Grischow’s February 4th ruling on a case that named 147 school districts, school district administrators claim roughly 500 of the state’s 852 school districts have also gone mask-optional. Had JCAR upheld the IDPH mask rule on Tuesday, roughly 350 of those districts not named in the initial lawsuit would’ve been subject to the state’s enforcement of the newly refiled rule.
The Illinois Department of Public Health “rule,” which the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted to suspend, derives its power from a combination of state law and executive powers the governor activated during an emergency. Pritzker argues that while the rule has been suspended, his executive powers are still in place. However, the court’s temporary restraining order and the legislative panel have suspended the rule, which allows the agency to carry out the executive orders.
Last week, Pritzker explained his administration would appeal the court ruling to avoid setting a legal precedent that would prevent the state from enacting statewide public health mandates in the future.
“We refiled the rule as a procedural step to simply keep the status quo in place while the appellate court considers our appeal,” Pritzker explained. “The JCAR members preferred a different procedural route to suspend the rule while waiting for an appellate court ruling.”
Three House Democrats, Reps. Mike Halpin, Fran Hurley, and Curtis Tarver voted with Republicans to suspend the IDPH emergency rule at the Tuesday JCAR hearing.
“We’re currently in a situation where the TRO says this rule is not enforceable,” Halpin said. “It’s possible, if not probable, that this might change on appeal. But for now as we sit here, for that reason, I’ll vote yes.”
Senate Democrats Bill Cunningham and Tony Munoz voted “present” after Cunningham questioned if IDPH was even enforcing the mask rule after the court issued the restraining order. An IDPH official acknowledged the state was honoring the circuit court ruling and waiting for the appeal process to play out “in a matter of speaking.”
“The Circuit Court of Sangamon County found that students have a due process right to object to mandatory masking,” state senator John Curran (R-Downers Grove) said to an IDPH official during the JCAR hearing. “They found your rule to be null and void.”
The Fourth District Appellate Court asked the Pritzker administration and the school districts that filed suit against the mask rules to explain how the JCAR ruling affected the ongoing case. Two hours before the court was scheduled to hear their arguments, Pritzker again repeated his claims that his emergency powers were unchanged.
“The executive order is in effect,” Pritzker responded the next day. “We still have a mask requirement in the state of Illinois for schools.”
Republicans on the panel suggested IDPH could have issued “guidance” instead of refiling an emergency “rule” which they said “carries the weight of law.”
Republicans running for governor have argued Pritzker should trust parents and local school districts to make health decisions on their own.
“I trust parents,” Pritzker responded, “and what parents and doctors are saying is they want kids and teachers and the community safe. That’s what I’ve been following all along. In fact, listening to the majority of parents, I think you know, that a majority of parents in the state of Illinois, and across the country believe that we need to keep a mask requirement in schools until it becomes safer.”
A recent CBS News/YouGov poll found that 57% of parents with school-age children supported mask mandates in school classrooms.